Coffee farmers in Rift cry out after millers' licences revoked

Small-scale coffee farmer Jacob Ruto at his farm in Lelmokwo Ngechek Ward, Nandi County. [Titus Too, Standard]

Coffee farmers in the North Rift region are staring at huge losses as government intensifies reforms in the sub-sector that has led to cancellation of licenses issued to private millers.

An outcry has erupted as farmers who are currently pulping their crop ready for processing, said they have nowhere to take it, since operations have been halted by private millers after revocation of licenses.

Anxious farmers who have diversified into the cash crop, away from the traditional maize and other horticultural crops, said they are now in dilemma since they cannot process and market their produce.

Drawn from Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Trans Nzoia and Bungoma, the coffee farmers said local millers have been a lifeline and urged the government to reverse its decision on a blanket cancellation of licences.

The farmers said although they support government move to eradicate cartels, thorough investigations ought to be carried out gradually, rather than rushing decisions.

Isaac Letting from Lessos in Nandi said private millers had encouraged them to increase production and their economic wellbeing.

"Private milling plants advance payments to us for anticipated deliveries. We also access loans for school fees and other development initiatives. They also provide inputs including fertiliser. Cancelling their licenses will amount to killing local investments," said Letting.

Kiptoo Birgen and Jacob Ruto from Lelmokwo Ngecheck said they have been hard hit since they were about to reap fruits from their new investments.

"We had diversified into coffee farming to gain better income. We are now in a dilemma," said Birgen. "We are ready for harvesting but have nowhere to take the produce for processing."

Ruto said he harvested his first coffee produce last year after reducing maize acreage, pointing out that the decision to cancel licenses of private millers is "demoralizing and confusing farmers."

"We can neither earn from coffee nor maize. My high hope was in coffee and the government should have encouraged us to expand cash crops," he said.

Esther Mwangi from Trans Nzoia said the government's move to shut operations of private millers could expose farmers to brokers from Uganda, who would exploit them.

Shadrack Wasilwa, also a coffee farmer said, "The government is interfering with private businesses by verbally revoking licenses without carrying out investigations. Farmers sign contracts with millers who have met government requirements through AFA."

Wasilwa said reforms should have been done gradually. He expressed fear that both private millers and farmers will lose millions in their investments.

At the Great Rift Coffee, a private miller in Nandi, operations have been halted following revocation of licences.

"For the last four months, we have experienced some hardship because we are not receiving farmer's produce. At the moment, we are supposed to be at peak season of milling and marketing," said Pascal Muhambi, quality control manager.

Muhambi said there is an outcry from farmers who are awaiting pay for processed coffee that is yet to be marketed. He said the facility has complied with government directives and would wait for the process to be concluded fast.

Great Rift Coffee signs one year agreements with farmers from Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Bungoma and Baringo among other counties.

Lucy Melly, the Operations Manager at Great Rift Coffee said compared to last season, they have performed dismally in the current season, noting that apart from services rendered to farmers, other services including extension services and Corporate Social Responsibility have been affected.

Kelvin Enonda, in-charge of milling, expressed fears that jobs are at risk.