Nandi farmers fault reforms in coffee sector

Coffee sector reforms were initiated in a bid to remove unscrupulous businessmen and brokers. [iStockphoto]

Coffee farmers in Nandi county have criticized the government reforms aimed at revitalizing the ailing sector.

The farmers were speaking when they presented their grievances to Cooperatives and MSMEs Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui at Chebonet Coffee milling factory in Tinderet.

Jeremiah Leting, a representative of the farmers, cited inaccessibility to fertilizer and extension services previously facilitated by the cooperatives.

“Initially, the cooperative societies procured and supplied fertilizers to the farmers on credit,” Leting said.

“But those privileges have been taken over by the new Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (KPCU), and they directly supply to the registered farmers, a process that has a raft of restrictions,” he added.

The government initiated coffee sector reforms in a bid to remove unscrupulous businessmen and brokers who have been exploiting farmers for years.

However, some farmers have claimed that the new regulations will destabilise the cooperative societies that undertake collective bargaining and marketing of produce.

They fear that the new KPCU reforms threaten established cooperative societies and undermine their development structures.

According to the Nandi County Agriculture and Cooperatives Department, there are over 60 registered cooperative societies in Tinderet constituency. The majority of the cooperative societies were initiated in the 1960s when coffee farming was introduced in the region.

John Kichwen, a farmer, pointed out the lack of farmer involvement in formulating the new policies and the silence surrounding the fate of existing cooperative society management.

In the new reforms, the farmers are set to directly receive pay after their produce has been sold. This negatively affects cooperative societies where they service loans.

“Payment of farmers must be done through the cooperative societies. The farmers will lose millions of money and their assets if the cooperatives default on loan repayment in the long run,” said Kichwen.

He called upon the national and county governments to establish certified milling factories to produce quality coffee that meets international market standards.

Furthermore, farmers raised concerns about the management of the new Chebonet milling plant, requesting its handover to a cooperative union.

Chelugui acknowledged Nandi's significant coffee production (1,400 metric tonnes annually) and reiterated the government's commitment to protecting farmers' interests.

“We have set the minimum price at Sh80 per kilogram of coffee and above that, farmers will receive a bonus. There are challenges that come with the changes the government is making in the sector, and we urge the farmers to adjust according to new policies,” the CS said.

Nandi Governor Stephen Sang said that the new milling plant would be certified, and it would be open for farmers to supply their cherries.

“We already have the brokerage structures in place, and this will lock out cartels in the coffee sector. My administration would facilitate extensional services to farmers to enhance coffee production in the region,” he said.

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