Why Kenyan coffee has become a tough sell

By MUCHEMI WACHIRA
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A plan by the Kenyan government to put in place a policy to guide the coffee sub-sector into full recovery remains in limbo due to a delay by stakeholders endorsing the proposals.

The reforms, designed to empower farmers to improve production were developed last year by a presidential task force. The taskforce gazetted the rules before a group of farmers, supported by the Council of Governors (CoG), moved to the High Court to stop their implementation.

They argued that the regulations had not been subjected to public participation and the court subsequently declared the rules unconstitutional and issued an order stopping their implementation.

The government has since accused the CoG, which is a convention of Governors in all 47 counties, of teaming up with cartels to sabotage its efforts to revive the ailing sub-sector.

“We have several actors using the name of the farmer to delay reforms in the coffee industry,” Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Willy Bett who is required to start developing the industry’s policy after endorsement of the proposed regulations, told a stakeholders meeting in Nairobi last month.

The government through the Agriculture Foods Authority, the industry regulator had convened the meeting.

Mr Bett told the participants who included officials of farmers’ saccos, millers, marketing agents, dealers and owners of coffee estates that they had been given 30 days by the court to consult before gazetting the regulations.

He said that he was prepared to sign the policy document but a group of Sacco officials called for deletion of sections they said were detrimental to the growth of the industry.

The coffee policy as stipulated in the proposed reforms aims to improve the marketing practices of Kenyan coffee, which would be certified and labelled for traceability.

Question of collusion

As the meeting noted, Uganda, which developed it coffee policy four years ago is now doing better than Kenya.

With establishment of the Uganda Coffee Authority, which deals with export and quality control, coffee has become the most important agricultural commodity and major foreign exchange earner for Uganda.

And though Uganda has been exporting more coffee than Kenya, the latter produces premium beans that are in high demand globally.

Currently, Kenyan coffee is blended with beans from other parts of the world, making its traceability difficult.

Most of the coffee grown in Uganda is Robusta, and is produced in bulk unlike the Arabica grown in Kenya. Arabica is of high quality and more expensive to produce.

Kenyan farmers have often accused their government of lacking the political goodwill to restructure the subsector and forcing several growers to uproot their coffee trees in favour of other crops.

The growers have no control over marketing of their coffee. After harvesting and delivering the red cherries to factories or wet mills, the farmer has no control over his crop.

All the work is done by farmers’ Saccos. These societies are registered by the government that also licenses commercial millers and marketing agents.

Some Sacco officials are known to collude with millers and marketers to steal from the growers.

In the marketing process, there are several other players. Cartels have also invaded it, reducing efficiency throughout the coffee chain.

Source
The EastAfricanBusiness




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