- With forecasted 30-40 per cent drop in coffee production, there are fears that the anticipated scramble for the scarce beans by millers and marketing agents will worsen the situation.
Over the last four years, widespread theft of coffee beans has deeply eaten into the fortunes of the multi-billion shilling industry.
Smallholder farmers marketing their produce through co-operative societies have lost millions of shillings to armed gangs, which raid factories at night and cart away bags of unshelled beans.
Central Kenya, specifically Nyeri County where some of best coffee in terms of quality come from, has borne the brunt of these thefts. Just last week, 51 bags of the crop were stolen from Ndia-ini factory in the county in a daring morning raid.
Also a week ago, a gang of 30 struck at dawn stealing 35 bags in Mukurwe-ini.
“The fact that there were farmers around the factory and the police who never prevented the crime tells a lot about those behind these thefts,” Mr Wachira Mwago, a former chairman of the defunct, Coffee Board of Kenya told Smart Company.
Stakeholders in the coffee industry blame the theft of the produce on unscrupulous millers, marketers and even dealers who are said to collaborate with crooked co-operative society officials.
Confusion arising from the transfer of some functions to county governments, some of which lacked the capacity and legal framework to deal with the industry, has also been cited as the reason for the sprouting of cartels who have found loopholes to cash in on.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a manager at the coffee directorate, which is under the Agricultural and Food Authority, blamed the heists on a move by the director-general to cede licensing of coffee permits and movement licences to county governments without adequate preparations and consultations.
“Machakos and Kiambu counties refused to take up the functions due to lack of capacity, but Nyeri, Kisii and others took up the licensing despite lacking the capacity,” he said.
Towards the end of last year, farmers in Nyeri County are estimated to have lost coffee worth more than Sh100 million to gangs which target factories. Unfortunately, most of the stolen produce had not been insured. Factories affected include Kiamariga, Tambaya, Gititu, Ndimaini and Ichamama.