Cooperatives and MSME development Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui has challenged coffee farmers in Embu to unite and sort out the uncertainty in ownership of Embu County Coffee mill Co-operative Society Limited.
Speaking when he visited the mill at Kavutiri, Runyenjes Constituency in Embu County, Chelugui advised the 24 cooperative societies in the County to support the mill before asking for a waiver of sh 164 million loan.
Despite a plea by the local leaders led by Embu Governor Cecily Mbarire to waive the loan, the CS noted that his hands are tied since there are other 14 Co-operative societies with a similar loan from Commodities fund.
"There are 14 Societies financed at the same time and two that had loans waived are still struggling with the management and leadership. I will do a Cabinet Memo to review the loans," Chelugui said as he hinted of waiving the interest.
Chelugui also noted the ministry does not have a budget for a waiver but encouraged them to remain optimistic as the ministry seeks for a solution in collaboration with the county government.
"As a government we are seeking to bring everyone on board, will coordinate through the commissioner of cooperatives to streamline the management and leadership of cooperative societies where we will also order elections to those that have not done so for long. We must inject new blood into the societies," Chelugui said.
The CS announced that the cabinet had approved a sh 4 billion Coffee Chery advance fund that will be used to cushion farmers by ensuring they get payments two weeks after delivery and at sh 80 per Kilo.
He further said a bill before Parliament will ensure all farmers have equal access to the fund irrespective of their production size.
PS State department of Cooperatives Patrick Kilemi observed that the ministry will restructure a legal framework to limit what Co-operative managers can borrow with a clause to hold them accountable for misappropriation of funds.
Embu Governor Cecily Mbarire pleaded with the farmers to cooperate in sorting out the ownership of the Coffee mill. "We have the capacity but to do well the ministry must assure us a clear market and good prices."
She noted that the loan at the coffee mill rose from sh 90 to 164 million due to non-payment in the previous regime.
Embu Senator Alexander Mundigi opined that the Senate Committee on Agriculture remains alert and will do everything possible to cushion and ensure coffee and Macadamia farmers reap benefits from their sweat.
Runyenjes MP Eric Muchangi appealed to the National and County governments to fastrack initiatives that will encourage the young generation that has lost hope in coffee farming due to the diminishing returns.
"We envy the President's gesture to waive sh 117 billion in the sugar industry, these loans rose overtime and therefore must look at the loan at our mill before things get out of hand," Muchangi said.
Manyatta MP Gitonga Mukunji urged the ministry to monitor the Direct Settlement System (DSS) to ensure no misuse at the expense of the farmer.
Embu Women rep Njoki Njeru opined that government agencies must carry out a forensic audit on the coffee mill and to take legal action on individuals culpable of swindling funds.
"We must also deal with coffee theft as it is not a coincidence that the berries are stolen almost at the same time in all factories," Ms Njeru said.
While in Embu the CS Visited New KCC at Runyenjes where he said the government has allocated sh 700 million for the upgrade of the cooling plant to a fully fledged processor an initiative he said will create 200 jobs and increase daily milk collections that stands at 30,000 liters a day.