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Central smiles as Munya’s reforms add more money into the pockets of farmers

Charles Mutwiri of Mukarimu Coffee Estate at his coffee farm in Imenti North, Meru County. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

The reforms in the tea and coffee sectors have started paying off with farmers getting better returns.

The changes brought to an end the era of farmers uprooting their tea bushes and coffee trees following a decline in prices for their produce.

In the tea sector, celebrations are rife over the implementation of the reforms that gained momentum with the appointment of Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya who boldly pushed for the changes.

The sector has a fixed reserve price of the commodity pegged at Sh250 per kilogramme, with a monthly payment for green leaf up from Sh16 to Sh21.

The payment date has been pushed to early in the month unlike the three weeks delay experienced in the past.

The government also revived the Tea Board of Kenya as a regulator in the sector, as it ordered a forensic audit in all the farmer run tea factories to expose the rot that has been stifling growers’ efforts.

Murang’a has 10 tea processing factories with 80 per cent of production destined for the export market.

The reforms kicked off in 2017 at Kiru tea factory when farmers mandated the board chaired by Chege Kirundi to demand payment at Sh25 per kilogramme of green leaf, a move that was resisted by the then KTDA management.

The demand to review the price of the produce upwards was followed by the sacking and the replacement of the Company Secretary John Omanga with Bernard Kamau before legal battles emerged.

Munya accelerated the speed of the reform process followed by the election of directors to man the tea factories, with the election of David Ichoho as the KTDA chairman.

According to Zone Three Board Member Chege Kirundi, the gains made in a short time are the government-backed reserved prices at the Mombasa tea auction market and a rise in mini bonus payments in some of the factories.

Kirundi said the rate involved in the trade has also been reduced, thus a plus to growers as the board of directors is playing effective oversight.

“The trade is transparent unlike in the yesteryears when the agency leadership manipulated the prices, exposing the farmers to middlemen,” said Kirundi.

The Greenland Fedha had its interest reduced from 20 per cent to eight per cent.

Impressive prices

Munya said farmers can expect better returns following the impressive prices at the auction market, ending the era of buyers controlling the sector.

Tea lobby members Irungu Nyakera, Peter Kihungi and Charles Kirigwi say the sector is back on its feet, lauding the establishment of a  tea stabilisation fund to shield farmers when prices drop.

Kihungi, an aspiring Kangema parliamentary aspirant, says the living standards of growers are set to improve once all the reforms are implemented.

“The former management has been stealing from farmers until the battle to end the vice kicked off at the Murang’a County Assembly in 2015 driven by myself and the then Kinyona MCA Kirigwi,” said Kihungi.

Nyakera, who is aspiring for Murang’a governorship on the Farmers Party ticket, says the reforms brought to an end decades of manipulation by the leaders.

In the coffee sub-sector, there have been better prices following the impressive prices offered by the government back millers and New Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (NKPCU).

National Coffee Federation of Kenya chairman Francis Ngone said the sector has benefitted through the reforms with most of the societies paying not less than Sh90.

Ngone says the reform window has seen farmers start taking coffee farming seriously with many of the unions embarking on establishing their mills to reduce the cost of production.

In Mt Kenya, Othaya has an operations mill while Murang’a has one under construction, he said, a move that will increase gains to the growers.

Kipkelion Farmers Cooperative Union in Rift Valley is an example of the success of the reforms. Growers were paid Sh140 per kilogramme of cherry they sold through the export window.

“The society sold their produce to the Good Beans Company in Korea after they searched for the best market globally,” said Ngone.

In March, New Ngariama Farmers Cooperative in Kirinyaga paid farmers as follows; Kainamui at the rate of Sh120.35, Kamwangi Sh115.55 and Kiamugi Sh120.90.

NKPCU Managing Director Timothy Mirugi says the board has been working closely with the farmers to ensure they have a clear path to the market.

He said the reforms have enabled the growers to access cherry advance funds once they comply with the requirements.

“The government has been supportive in the coffee revival programmes, creating an enabling transformation path, linking the farmers with the millers and the marketers unlike before,” said Murugi.

The coffee sector has been ailing since the 1990s after the government allowed the split of large societies, which was fueled by commercial millers and marketers.

A coffee farmer, Mary Njeri said women have suffered for a long time due to the manipulation of the market by merchants.

“The steps taken by the government will help streamline the sector and farmers have access to a better market.”

Ngutu Cooperative Society chairman John Mucheke said the reforms have more advantages than disadvantages as the members have the final say.

“The farmers abandoned the sector after wrangles with former management committees,” said Mucheke.

James Mukuha from Ndaru factory in Nyeri County, however, avers that some of the proposed reforms in the sector will bring down the industry.

He questions the direct settlement scheme that is designed for all the payments from all the societies to be deposited by merchants in one bank.

In the concept, Mukuha says the societies will forward details of the members to enable their payment channelled in their respective accounts.