Strengthen coffee factories to improve welfare of farmers
A story is told of a big foreign buyer of Kenyan coffee who once visited the country to meet local coffee farmers.
Hundreds of them trooped to the venue excited at the prospects of better fortunes. The wealthy investor arrived at the venue and after sitting patiently for a while, sipping bottled water, he wondered why the farmers were late for such an important meeting, and who were all these people in the stadium, were they labourers?
To his utter consternation, he was informed that the shabbily dressed people he was looking at were actually the coffee farmers. He could not fathom how people who produce the best coffee in the world could be looking so haggard and distraught.
Exploitation by cartels has condemned farmers to a life of abject poverty. Removing rogue elements from the coffee value chain is crucial to transforming coffee into a sustainable source of livelihood.
Disrupting the status quo
This will, however, not be an easy task, given the propensity of cartels to resist any attempts at disrupting the status quo. After delivering coffee to the factory, farmers do not know how much or when they will be paid for their crops. In many cases, they don’t even know where the processed coffee, also known as green coffee, is taken after leaving the factory.
It is within this massive black hole of information that cartels thrive. Apart from enhancing transparency, there is also a need to create an inclusive coffee value chain with the farmer involved in decision-making, right from production to processing and marketing.
Whereas the Crops (Coffee) (General) Regulations 2019 recognise the grower as the owner until the coffee is sold and paid for, the opaque coffee processing and marketing system tend to consign the smallholder farmer to the periphery of critical decision-making in the coffee life-cycle.
Coffee Bill 2020 proposes to make coffee factories autonomous units in relation to the processing and marketing of coffee. As a coffee farmer, I would say one of the biggest reasons behind the sorry state of Kenya's coffee industry is the chokehold the corrupt cooperative societies have had on the factories.
Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who has vowed to lead the war on cartels in the coffee industry, should push for the enactment of the Coffee Bill into law. This will transform factories into innovation hubs.
Kenyan coffee farmers should not be wallowing in poverty yet they produce the second most sought-after commodity in the world after crude oil.
Mr Choto is a legal and policy [email protected]