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Kenya coffee farmers protest Uhuru task force report, say their views ignored

By Job Weru | June 26th 2016 at 14:52:28 GMT +0300

After reading the report prepared by a task force appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta, coffee farmers think they got a raw deal.

The report released a fortnight ago has left peasant farmers seething in anger as the core of what they wanted addressed has been by-passed. They now think they will go back to square one.

The farmers expressed discomfort over the manner in which the task force operated, with some saying the report is only meant to protect wealthy coffee dealers. Of major concern is that the report did not address the issue of cartels, which farmers have always been blamed for causing their woes, mainly around poor pay.

The task force was appointed by President Kenyatta on March 3 and was expected to file a report after three weeks, but the tenure was extended to April 14.

Already, a lobby group called New National Farmers' Association (NFA) has written to the President, seeking his intervention after what it claimed was "the cartels joining hands with the task force to draft a report that only favours them and not farmers".

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NFA Chairman Harrison Munyi told The Standard that the group wrote a petition to the President after 80 per cent of its recommendations were trashed by the task force.

"The team (task force) seemed not to be familiar with coffee farming. The cartels might have joined hands with the task force to have a report that only favours them," Munyi said in the petition. He and seven other officials of the lobby recommended increase of coffee prices to Sh350 a kilogramme, so as to be in line with prices in Ethiopia.

Ironically, the task force recommendations recommended Sh50 per kilogramme of coffee delivered. The farmers also want to be paid a Guaranteed Minimum Return Price (GMRP) of Sh120 per kilo as advance payment before the coffee is sold.

"The government should come up with its own ways of buying coffee directly from the farmers, which then it should sell to private millers or export directly on behalf of the farmers. The government must also ban auctioning of coffee, as this will make farmers receive better prices," Munyi said.

Other recommendations by the NFA include legislation of laws that will eliminate middlemen who only elongate the value chain and drain farmers' proceeds, and deployment of armed personnel to guard coffee stores and when the produce is on transit.

"We recommend life imprisonment for those stealing farmers' coffee from the store. Those who looted Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (KPCU) should also be prosecuted and their properties returned to farmers," the petition reads.

Mr Job Kareithi, a stakeholder in the coffee sub-sector and George Gichuru, a farmer at Kagere in Othaya, Nyeri County, said the task force only dealt with light issues, without due consideration of the plight of peasant farmers.

Kareithi and Gichuru sensationally claimed that the task force comprised players in the coffee sector, who are part of those blamed for the farmers' troubles.

"President Kenyatta picked the same cartels that have been in the coffee business and gave them a cap christened 'coffee task force'. What Kenyans should know that foreigners are not to blame for coffee woes. It is not whites who are cartels in this sub-sector, but a few wealthy Kenyans who want to control the trade," said Kareithi.

He said that peasant coffee farmers are contemplating moving to court to block the report's implementation. A meeting was scheduled for Friday when the decision was to be made.

"It is only moving to court that will save farmers, since the task force mandated to find ways of eradicating elements that prey on their earnings did not help them at all," said Kareithi. The farmerswill meet today at Karindundu in Mathira, where they will chert the way forward.

"We have decided that as farmers, it is high time we found ways of solving our issues since the task force did not address our problems," said Kareithi.

Mr Wambugu Nyamu, a farmer in Nyeri called for total liberalisation of coffee milling, roasting and marketing.

President Uhuru Kenyatta coffee farming New National Farmers' Association (NFA)
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