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Coffee growers, committees lock horns over marketing

By | January 10th 2010

By Boniface Gikandi

Coffee farmers are now demanding a bigger say in the marketing and pricing of their crop.

Majority of the farmers from Central and Eastern provinces—key coffee growing areas—are defying their management committees in deciding on a miller and marketer of their produce, alleging corruption and years of intimidation.

Since last year, farmers have been keenly analysing catalogues of each of the six licensed millers, and selecting those with better returns.

Decision making

Previously, management committees were charged with the responsibility of deciding on the millers after boardroom meetings.

Last year, millers Nyambene, Thika, Sasini, Socfinaf, Central Kenya and Kenya Planters Cooperative Union pitched camp in Murang’a, where they promoted themselves before farmers, unlike before when they were invited by management committees.

Farmers from Murang’a have resisted a move to have their produce sold by Kenya Coffee Cooperative Exporters Limited chaired by Stanley Muchiri. The firm was registered recently.

Mr Muchiri said the organisation has secured a Sh1 billion guarantee from the Cooperative Bank of Kenya, to pay farmers for the produce delivered to their go-downs.

The farmers, however, prefer selling to Nyambene coffee mills. They argue that the miller has a good paying record compared to other millers.

But Maragua MP Elias Mbau says the farmers are yet to enjoy the improved coffee sales owing to corrupt management committees and other pending issues.

"Farmers’ income is severely slashed after deductions to service loans amounting to Sh1.5 billion allegedly granted 20 years ago," said Mbau. He said his colleagues from Murang’a are studying the factors that deny farmers from reaping from their sweat.

Meanwhile, Mugama Farmers Cooperative Union is setting up a coffee milling plant at Maragua, through partnerships with other investors. The union’s chairman Francis Njinjo said once operational, the plant will reduce the cost of transporting coffee to millers. "Farmers are agreed the local coffee mills will be their choice after years of exploitation by middle men" said Mr Njinjo.

Patrick Kubania, the Nyambene field manager in charge of Murang’a, during a session at Kiriti Coffee Society, explained how farmers are assisted to procure interest free farm inputs.

He said farmers who supply beans to Nyambene Mills will get interest free advance payment of Sh20 a kilogramme once their produce has been delivered awaiting final payment. The field officer said coffee production in Murang’a in the next five years is projected to hit 120 million tonnes.

"Nyambene attracts better payments since it sells the produce through direct sales and leaving a small percentage for sale at Nairobi Coffee Auction," said Kubania.

At Thanga-ini Coffee Society in Kigumo District, milling decisions have split farmers with their management.

Farmers recommended contracting of Nyambene while the management has been scouting for another miller.

The struggle to control decision-making has caused ripples in the coffee society’s board.

"If Nyambene fails to give the best as indicated in their catalogue we shall go for another miller in the next season," said Peter Wairegi, a farmer.

Hiram Mwaniki, the chairman of Murata Sacco says coffee farmers must ask the Government interventions to bail them out from problems.

Murang’a East DC George Natembeya accused the coffee management committees of running down coffee societies.

"We have several cases where committees acquired working loans only to resign leaving members struggling to service them" said the DC.

In the latest coffee catalogue, German is the leading buyer of Kenyan coffee (30 per cent), Benelux 12 per cent, USA/Canada (11 per cent), Sweden (nine per cent), and Finland and Britian (six per cent each)

In 2008/2009 the country produced 56,400 tonnes compared to 41,800 tonnes the previous year.

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