- The oldest coffee Sacco, Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (KPCU) says they have solutions to the problems afflicting the sector and should, therefore, have been included in the team.
- However, at the height of coffee production in 1989, the International Coffee Agreements fell apart after countries refused to agree on quotas an event that was disastrous for many people along the supply chain especially farmers in coffee growing nations.
- This was followed by the Coffee Act 2002 which allowed abolished the sale of the cherry (mbuni) at the gate leading to arise in a cut throat parallel market.
A taskforce formed by President Uhuru Kenyatta to find solutions for the deep-running problems facing the sector certainly has one of the most daunting assignments.
The 19-man team created on Friday by President Uhuru Kenyatta has just 20 days to come up with comprehensive solutions to the extensive rot in the sector. This is itself a tall order without throwing in the headwinds that the team is already experiencing from a section of stakeholders.
Peasant Coffee Farmers Association of Kenya (PCFAK) has poured cold water on the new initiative saying it’s unlikely to succeed as this is not the first time such a move is being made.
Although the Kenya Small scale Coffee Growers Association (KESCOGA) supports the taskforce, it is concerned that it may be infiltrated by cartels and middlemen who have been robbing farmers of their returns, leaving them impoverished.
The oldest coffee Sacco, Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (KPCU) says they have solutions to the problems afflicting the sector and should, therefore, have been included in the team.
“If we would have been included in the taskforce we would have added value as we are already implementing some of the issues that have been troubling the sector,” KPCU chairman William Gatei said.
KPCU, he said runs a programme that offers instant cash to farmers and is partnering with Israel firm Green Arava to irrigate coffee farms.
PCFAK said the sector’s troubles would end if the President had issued a directive to have coffee sold by the national government under one pool.
KESCOGA said the government should adopt the Ethiopian or Columbian model and support small holder farmers to sell their coffee directly to the market.
The stakeholders said farmers only get one per cent of returns on coffee sale while farmers from the neighbouring Uganda gets up to 80 per cent on the sale of the crop.
President Kenyatta wants the taskforce to find ways to substantially increase farmers’ income and recommend ways of financing production training and rehabilitating factories.
During the opening of this year’s Nairobi International Trade Fair at Jamhuri Park, Nairobi, last year, the President Kenyatta praised the reforms instituted so far in the sector saying they would substantially improve the fortunes of farmers.
He cited liberalisation of marketing and milling of coffee, debt waiver to farmers and the establishment of Commodities Fund – which has to date disbursed over Sh2 billion to 80,000 beneficiaries as fundamental changes that would soon pay dividends.
Experts have, however, questioned the reforms saying they have been ineffective with their implementation dogged by political interference leading to hijacking of the sector by cartels.
The analysts say pressure from Western donors and aid experts pushed the Kenyan government into putting in place hurriedly crafted reforms that may have actually worked to kill the coffee industry.
Thanks to the enormous challenges, the sector has seen productivity drop to under 50,000 tonnes from a record level of 130,000 tonnes in 1987/88.
Average production in Kenya from 1990 to 2013 was 1 million bags down from 1.3 million in the hey days of 1989.
Last year’s season that runs to September saw a paltry 568,766 60-kg bags sold at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange from 671,438 bags sold in 2014.
Analysts say the withdrawal of donor funding forced President Daniel Moi to dismantle agricultural monopolies without giving time for markets to develop or putting in place institutions to link farmers to them.
Kenya’s high quality Arabica coffee beans are sought by roasters globally to blend with beans from other producers.
In the 1990’s the market was liberalised through 1986 sessional paper no 1 on Economic management for renewed growth, exposing ill-prepared smallholder farmers to high costs of inputs, a dollar exchange market which they did not understand and later, freedom to opt out of the industry.
Prior to 1988, coffee which currently ranks fourth after tourism, tea and horticulture, was Kenya’s leading foreign exchange earner contributing over 40per cent of the total exports value between 1975 and 1986.