Farmers split over return of Coffee Board of Kenya

Coffee farmers sorting berries in Nyeri. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Anxiety has gripped farmers over the return of the Coffee Board Of Kenya (CBK).

President William Ruto announced the return of CBK to regulate the coffee sector and steer it to profitability.

Speaking in Atlanta, Georgia during a state visit to the US, President Ruto said CBK will be re-established based on the proposed Coffee Bill 2023.

But Mzee Joseph Kamande, a coffee movement leader from Maragua claimed that CBK would waste farmers' resources through hiring hundreds of staff.

Kamande said the government should have pumped resources into the Coffee Research Foundation (CRF) to study diseases and pests attacking coffee berries.

“CBK is a regulator, and its presence will be painful to Kenya’s coffee farmers on taxation as it issues licenses. We have the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) and Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) regulating the sector,” he said.

A coffee conference held in Meru last year and presided over by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua saw stakeholders resolve to re-establish the CBK to oversee the industry at the national level. 

The CBK will be mandated with registration and licensing of the players in the value chain that include, coffee nurseries, growers, pulping, millers, marketing agents, management agents, buyers, roasters, packers, warehouses, and auctioneers.

James Kariuki, a farmer from Ng'araria ward, Kandara, said it is ill-advised to disband coffee boards.

He argued that the establishment of the Agriculture Food Authority (AFA) was not well thought out.

“It was a ploy to manipulate the agriculture sector. Farmers should be allowed to market their coffee without many regulations,” said Kariuki.

Gatagua Farmers' Cooperative Society chairman Harrison Chege said the Coffee Directorate has been in existence but has failed to stamp authority in streamlining the sector.

“The farmers are presently interested in getting better returns from the market. The regulator should stop taking the mandate of the marketing agents, as the sector needs to be regulated like is the case in the petroleum industry,” said Chege.  

Francis Ngone, who chairs the National Coffee Cooperative Unions (NACCU) welcomed the return of CBK saying AFA has failed to address major issues affecting the coffee sector.

He said there is a need to re-introduce CBK as other cash crops have their own leadership.

"Once established, it will have its own board with farmers electing their directors as we have a sugar board, the return of the CBK has been deliberated in the coffee reforms forums,” said Ngone who is also the chairman at Murang’a Farmers Cooperative Union.

Peter Kuria a coffee farmer from Gatanga said many committees had been appointed by the successive governments and made recommendations, yet the reports were not implemented.

“It's a shame that we are now reintroducing CBK that we did away with and placed its directorate under AFA. We should be focusing on creating marketing linkages with the expanding direct market that will pay the farmers better,” said Kuria.

Jane Mumbi an estate farmer in Kiambu said the return of CBK is god sent as the farmers will have a say in the management of the sector through their representatives.

"Presently, with all the confusion in the sector nobody is answerable to the policies being implemented," said Mumbi.

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