Taita Taveta coffee farmers lose out to cartels


A woman smiles as she harves coffee in her farm. [File, Standard]

Coffee farmers in Taita-Taveta County have lauded the ongoing reforms in the sector that are aimed at dismantling cartels. The cartels have been controlling prices in the world market on their behalf.

The strengthening of the dollar against the shilling has also not translated to increased earnings since the cartels still control the market.

Led by Taita Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Society senior officials, the over 700 farmers noted that the cartels have been denying farmers direct access to the market for many years, but they cannot get more money.

“Cartels have made coffee prices slump in the world market. The prices have remained low because there is no open window. Farmers pass through powerful cartels to access the outside market,” stated Jonam Mugho, the farmer’s body chairperson.

He said the situation remained terrible, and they only hoped that Kenya Kwanza would succeed in its efforts to dismantle cartels and put more money in their pockets through better pricing of their produce.

"We are fully behind Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who is working hard to reform the coffee sector that has become a preserve of a few powerful individuals who dictate prices and markets for the farmers. We are, however, not sure if the government will dismantle the powerful cartels,” he noted. Other farmers,  Pascal Vikoto and Raymond Nganyi, also supported the government's move to streamline the coffee sector for the benefit of coffee farmers.

“Coffee is not a free trade commodity, and there is a lot of bureaucracy in the Coffee Board of Kenya, which has been working in cahoots with corruption cartels to frustrate farmers,” said Mugho, one of the few successful coffee farmers in the area told The Standard yesterday. “We still have coffee plants on our farms. The good thing is that the plants can be productive for over 100 years unless one decides to uproot or destroy them.”

He said it was unfortunate that coffee farming had declined in the county at an alarming rate, yet it was the only coffee-growing region in the entire Coast region. The early Christian missionaries brought into the country the first coffee trees and planted them at Bura and in Wundanyi, all in Taita Hills, on a trial basis.

The missionaries were reported to have duped and exploited the unsuspecting local inhabitants, that the exotic crop variety around Bura Mission was a flower. Mugho, who boasts of 30 years of leadership in the coffee sub-sector, said the few educated Africans were allowed to grow the crop in Taita.

Phides Wakesho, a farmer said they uprooted all the coffee trees on the family farm. “We had more than 100 coffee trees but uprooted them because of poor price and returns. We have replaced coffee with maize, beans, Macadamia and avocado plants, Irish potatoes and French beans among other crops that fetch good returns,” said Ms Wakesho from Taita sub-County.

Boniface Mwavula, a former county chief officer said coffee production has been low.