A stalemate between officials of co-operative societies and the government on implementation of proposed coffee rules is the major cause of uncertainty in the sub-sector.
Last week, members of Coffee Subsector Implementation Committee (CSIC) were trying to piece together contentious issues raised by farmers’ representatives at a stakeholders’ meeting in October.
The forum was convened by the Agriculture and Food Authority, which is the industry’s regulator, in compliance with a court order. This is after the High Court in June declared the new regulations unlawful on the grounds that they were developed without participation of all stakeholders.
The court was very specific, directing Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett to ensure that the rules are passed within 30 days of the first sitting of Parliament.
About four issues were raised by farmers’ society officials. Two of them, the growers’ argued, were cleverly crafted to kill co-operative societies and the sub-sector since smallholder farmers market their crops through saccos.
The first is introduction of a Central Depository Unit and the other is a requirement that growers are free to form associations to qualify for a licence to pulp their own coffee.
The former is a payment system meant to ensure money for coffee deliveries is paid directly to individual growers once the produce has been sold. Farmers usually wait for more than six months for their coffee proceeds. This has been blamed on hawking of fresh cherries, which has been declared illegal.
“Even this time, somebody will go to court to oppose the rules. But we shall lobby the Council of Governors and Members of Parliament. We don’t want to wait any longer,” said the chairman of CSIC, Prof Joseph Kieyah.
His committee is currently compiling contentious issues for discussion with stakeholders before being published in the Kenya Gazette. And they don’t seem to be prepared to make changes, especially on these two issues.
At present, the alarm is being raised over the number of private pulping facilities coming up, especially in Nyeri and Embu counties.
The chairman of Kibugu Co-operative Society in Embu, Mr Robinson Ngano, had earlier complained that his members were decamping with loans and were delivering their produce to private mills.
In Nyeri, there are similar complaints as individuals buy coffee from farmers after setting up their own pulping stations. Most of these farmers belong to societies that are performing poorly.
The private firms not only pay well but immediately.
Prof Kieyah, who also chairs the Presidential Task Force, said they developed the rules based on complaints by farmers. Since their aim is to improve production and quality of coffee, he said CDU must be introduced even if it means piloting it first.
CDU critics are mainly from well-managed co-operative societies that pay their members well. The members produce quality beans assisted by hired agronomists.
Owing to their good management, such societies are able to provide loans to members. Smallholder farmers, critics say, need to be organised and well managed.
As Mr Wachira Mwago, chairman of Barichu Co-operative Society in Nyeri County, says, Prof Kieyah and his team must consider cases of successful societies before rushing to make CDU mandatory.
He recalls the defunct Coffee Development Fund, which the government rushed to implement before making consultations. The fund used to advance loans to farmers, but it eventually collapsed since most farmers were unable to repay the money.
Meanwhile, there are incidents of illegal coffee trade with Uganda dealers, where local farmers are paid on delivery. Media reports state that Kenyan farmers are getting as much Sh250 for a kilogramme of fresh cherries.
By MUCHEMI WACHIRA
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