The enemy within: When peasants' watchmen turn predators

Simon Kimaru, a farmer at Ngamwa Village in Mukurwe-ini, Nyeri, harvests his coffee. Farmers have been suffering losses due to coffee theft. It is now apparent that some co-operatives’ management committees have a hand in the widespread theft of farmers’ coffee. (PHOTO: FILE/ STANDARD)

It is now apparent that some co-operatives’ management committees have a hand in the widespread theft of farmers’ coffee.

Police have, however, dismissed suggestions that they let the criminals go past their roadblocks with the loot, saying the thieves outwit them by using alternative routes.

But besides colluding with the coffee thieves, the management committees  have been accused of making up thefts so as to get compensation from insurance companies and later dispose of the coffee to crooked millers.

Central Regional Police Commander Larry Kieng accused co-operative societies and factories of declining to adhere to security guidelines.

In all incidents reported in Murang’a, Nyeri and Kirinyaga counties, night guards have been implicated in thefts and arrested.

But no action has been taken on members of the management committees who have failed to implement the stern measures.

Mr Kieng said the prosecution of officials of Othaya-based Kagere Coffee Factory where investigations revealed the theft of 200 bags of coffee in February was faked, has been frustrated by technical issues.

“We found out that despite the management claiming there was theft, there was excess coffee in their stores, but out investigations faced a technical hitch,” said Kieng.

It is also in the public domain that the crooked management committees work in cahoots with the factories’ watchmen and millers, who are the last beneficiaries of the stolen coffee.

An insider in the coffee value chain contends that coffee thefts will still remain a thorn in farmer’s flesh for some time.

The source anonymously said the Government’s strategy to support coffee farming would not yield any fruit as long as the security measures are not implemented.

No alarm systems

“The guards are too old to remain alert the whole night, while the management committees have also failed to ensure there are operational alarm systems,” said the source.

Last week, a gang raided Kiruru Coffee Factory in Mathioya and stole 150 bags of parchment coffee worth Sh2.5 million, which was collected from the drying tables.

Earlier, 60 bags of parchment coffee had been stolen from Gatuya factory in Kahuro.

A spot check by The Standard on Saturday in most of the factories revealed that there are no operational alarm systems while the guards are old and yet to be vetted by police as directed.

The committees are also on the spot for failing to notify the police about presence of parchment coffee in their stores so that they can enhance security patrols to keep away criminal elements.

In the past three months, three factories in Murang’a have been raided and 210 bags of parchment coffee worth millions of shillings stolen.

Last year, produce worth Sh3 million was stolen and besides the night guards, no other arrests were made.

It is interesting that after they are arrested and charged in court, the guards raise bond immediately, raising queries as to whether some wealthy people, probably their masters in the theft syndicates, are behind their release.

Murang’a County Government Coffee Director Paul Nyanjui said the co-operatives have failed to share information pertaining to coffee theft with his office.

“We issue transport permits but the factory managers withhold information regarding theft of parchment coffee,” said Nyanjui.

County commissioner John Elungata said officials report the thefts late, making it difficult to recover the stolen coffee.