Gachagua, leaders talk tough on coffee cartels, pledge to reward efforts

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua is welcomed by National and County Government leaders during the Coffee Stakeholders Conference at Three Steers Hotel in Meru County, on June 9, 2023. [DPCS]

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua did not hold back his words regarding coffee reforms yesterday, as he pledged to take action against the coffee cartels that are profiting from the hard work of farmers.

Gachagua, alongside Embu Governor Cecile Mbarire, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi, Trade, Industrialisation, and Investments CS Moses Kuria, Simon Chelugui from Cooperatives and MSMs, as well as other stakeholders and farmers, gathered in Meru town for a two-day coffee conference.

The purpose of the conference was to address the declining prospects faced by coffee farmers and work towards reversing the trend.

The DP said President William Ruto’s administration is committed to empowering farmers through new legislation that will be formulated during the Meru event.

These legislations aim to revitalize the coffee, tea, and dairy sub-sectors.

Furthermore, he expressed his determination to succeed in his role in order to secure his position.

“During elections, in fact, their campaigns receive more funding than the presidential campaigns. This raises the question: where do these officials acquire the campaign funds? These are the issues we aim to address once and for all,” he said.

Gachagua said through the summit, he intends for stakeholders to adopt a resolution that prohibits marketers from making long-term commitments to coffee beyond a single season.

“Those individuals are the ones who have installed puppets within every cooperative society solely for the benefit of the marketers. It is imperative for this conference to address this issue by devising mechanisms and formulating laws that safeguard the interests of the coffee societies.”

As the discussion revolved around eliminating coffee cartels in order to benefit the farmers, Governor Mbarire took the initiative to identify some of the companies that she claimed had control over the coffee sector.

“The companies responsible for milling the coffee also transform themselves into marketers. We should not hesitate to mention them because that is precisely what they do. After milling and marketing the coffee, they go on to become buyers of the very coffee they processed and marketed.

“If we do not tackle these cartels, our two-day gathering will be in vain, merely going in circles without achieving any positive outcomes. It is high time we firmly declare ‘enough is enough’,” she said.

Mbarire said despite the farmers’ hard work in coffee production, they continue to suffer. She held the cartels responsible for holding the coffee cooperative societies hostage and preventing their proper functioning.

However, Linturi said this was the first time he had heard about the companies mentioned by the Embu governor. In response, he instructed the Director of Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) to revoke the licences of the companies involved in interfering with the coffee sector.

“We now have the solution, and I would like to announce that we will hold a meeting on Tuesday morning. I assure you that this issue ends here. We will explore options for revoking their licences so that we can take appropriate action while awaiting the coffee bill that is currently in the Senate,” the CS said.

Kericho summit

The DP said in three weeks’ time, there would be another summit in Kericho to discuss the revitalisation of the tea sector. Subsequently, they would organise another summit focusing on macadamia and other cash crops in the country.

However, he reminded the stakeholders that their actions and proposals during the conference would be judged by history.

“My fellow compatriots, history will judge you favourably if, from this conference, you provide practical and pragmatic suggestions on how to restore the coffee sub-sector and improve the financial well-being of coffee farmers,” Gachagua said.

The Meru event represents the culmination of extensive consultations among various stakeholders, including farmers, as well as state and non-state agencies, focused on implementing sustainable reforms in the coffee sub-sector.

“For far too long, those who put in the most effort in coffee production have reaped the fewest benefits. That is precisely why we are gathered here today – to ensure that those who work the hardest receive fair compensation throughout the entire process,” Gachagua said.

He said the objective was to establish a direct connection between farmers and consumers, eliminating the many intermediaries along the value chain. This approach would result in higher earnings for producers.

“With the exorbitant prices of Kenyan coffee in the global market, it is unacceptable that Kenyan farmers receive meager returns. It is essential for Kenyan farmers to flourish economically, as they did in the past, and this will also contribute to the growth of foreign exchange,” he said.

Mr Chelugui urged representatives from his ministry and farmers to actively participate in the Coffee Exchange.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused along the way, but it is crucial that the rights of the farmers are upheld,” he said.

The CS highlighted the low uptake of the Sh3 billion Cherry Fund and emphasised the need to find solutions. He recognised the significance of research in revitalising the sector and expressed concern over the current state of the Coffee Research Foundation, which he described as a mere shadow of its former self.

“Research plays a vital role, and we must come up with recommendations,” he said, emphasising the importance of budgeting for quality seedlings, addressing coffee diseases, and other related issues.

He urged the Senate to exercise patience regarding the Coffee Bill 2023 and wait for recommendations from the summit.

Crucial phase

“This is a crucial phase of public participation. The participants here are not ordinary farmers; they represent all stakeholders in the coffee sub-sector. We will gather all the necessary laws, combining the inputs from the summit and the Senate, and proceed to the National Assembly. Once we have the appropriate legislation, it will be our responsibility, along with the President, CSs, and PSs, to implement it diligently,” he said.

Chelugui also acknowledged that the Kenya Planters Cooperative Union had become inactive and required reform. He said the division of large coffee societies into smaller and economically unviable units, driven by the greed of cooperative society officials, had led to increased operational costs, negatively impacting the farmers.

“We need to decide how to leverage economies of scale by consolidating coffee into larger organisations to reduce operational expenses,” he said.

Representatives from 33 coffee-producing counties were present at the summit. The Coffee Summit will conclude today, and the stakeholders will present their resolutions on Monday.