Cash crop farmers pained by low prices 

A farmer tends to a coffee bush in Nyeri town

A farmer tends to a coffee bush in Nyeri town on May 10, 2023. Coffee, macadamia, rice, tea and avocado have recorded a drastic drop in prices in recent months as powerful cartels invade the agriculture sector, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of farmers nationwide.

Photo credit: Jospeh Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Coffee, macadamia, rice, tea and avocado have recorded a drastic drop in prices in recent months as powerful cartels invade the agriculture sector, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of farmers nationwide.

Multiple interviews with farmers painted a picture of unending frustrations occasioned by the high cost of production, inaccessible markets and influential cartels who are buying the cash crops at throw-away prices and exporting at a premium.

And with agriculture being among the pillars of President William Ruto's administration’s bottom-up economic transformation agenda, disillusioned farmers hope the Sh49.9 billion allocated to the sector in this year’s budget will help turn the tide.

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u said the allocation includes Sh4.5 billion for fertiliser subsidy and Sh8.6 billion for the national agricultural value chain development project to spur the largest sector of the economy that contributes half of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 

Cost of living

Agriculture is key in resolving the prevailing high cost of living. Food accounts for 54 per cent of household expenditures and the majority of Kenyans depend on the sector for income. And, the rebellion by farmers will pile pressure on the government to strike a balance between higher earnings for farmers and affordable prices for consumers. 

Coffee, which was retailing at least Sh100 per kilogramme last year, is now fetching only Sh42. A kilo of macadamia is now selling at Sh20, down from a high of Sh200 in 2019.

It is the same sad story for tea, rice, sugarcane and avocado farmers as prices dip with farmers piling pressure on the Kenya Kwanza government to fulfil the minimum guaranteed returns to cushion them from heavy losses.

Some farmers are now contemplating uprooting their coffee bushes and macadamia trees, arguing they enjoyed higher rates and bonuses before the new administration took over. Mr Joseph Mwangi said unless the government intervenes, they will uproot the bushes to plant maize.

“I am very bitter. How can the prices drop from Sh100 to Sh40 per kilo? We need answers and not lip service by the government as we are tired of these gimmicks. People are joking around with our livelihoods.

“We have become slaves of this coffee. It is discouraging even the young generation from venturing into coffee farming. We want the government to come up with a permanent solution,” Mr Mwangi said in Murang’a.

Rigathi Gachagua

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua (centre) with Buuri MP Mugambi Rindikiri (left), Governors Stephen Sang (Nandi), Kawira Mwangaza (Meru) and Kahiga Mutahi (Nyeri) at Three Steers Hotel in Meru County on June 9, 2023, during the inaugural coffee conference. 

Photo credit: Charles Wanyoro | Nation Media Group

Mr Julius Maina, who chairs the Coffee Small Scale Growers Welfare group, said a kilo of coffee on average has recorded a low of Sh42 as opposed to the at least Sh100 that applied last season.

Eroded market quality

Murang’a crop director Mr Daniel Muchiri said the lack of strong growers’ cooperative societies, as well as brokers who engage in premature harvests trade, have eroded market quality, thereby lowering earnings.

"We need law enforcement to ensure no brokers are buying off harvests outside scheduled seasons. When the market senses compromised quality, it reacts by devaluing earnings and that is the major cause of some crops performing poorly," said Mr Muchiri.

Mr Stephen Maina said they are now being paid less as compared to last year when they got between Sh100 and Sh120 per kilo of raw cherry. The crop now fetches only Sh54.

“Our parents were educated using coffee proceeds. I also educated all my children with coffee proceeds up to university level, but now feeding, clothing or even securing proper meals for myself is difficult yet I have acres of coffee plantations,” remarked Maina.
Ms Ednah Njoki protested that the cost of producing one kilo of coffee was more than what was paid even after processing. 

“This government went round telling farmers that they would revive the coffee sector, giving hope that they would remove the farmer from the hell hole but looks like they are digging a deeper hell hole to bury the farmer. We are calling for the introduction of minimum guaranteed returns," lamented Ms Ednah. 

“The oversupply of coffee by leading global producers like Brazil (53 million kilos), erratic climatic conditions and low consumption of coffee among other factors have contributed to declined coffee prices in Western Kenya,” explained Simon Muchuno, Manager, CMS Mills, Eldoret.
Mr Moses Ndegwa, a farmer in Tetu constituency, said he sold a kilo of the berries at Sh120 last year, but this year the price fell to Sh80.

“My co-operative society told me that the reason for the decline was the strengthening of the dollar which has weakened the Kenyan shilling,” Mr Ndegwa said.
President Ruto has tasked his deputy Rigathi Gachagua to spearhead reforms to improve earnings, and the DP has promised to crash the cartels.
"There are multiple brokers between the coffee farmer and the consumer. Those brokers have oppressed farmers for many years. President Ruto gave me the mandate to lead the exercise of removing the middlemen so the farmer can reap more," Mr Gachagua said last month.

Last weekend, Mr Gachagua chaired a coffee summit in Meru and exuded confidence that the envisioned reforms will ensure more money for the farmers.

Saturday Nation has established that brokers have invaded Embu and Meru counties where they are exploiting macadamia farmers by buying their produce cheaply at between Sh20 and Sh30, down from an average of more than Sh100.

"We feel like giving up macadamia farming because the prices are not good at all. At the moment we are selling our produce at throw-away prices," said one of the farmers in the Mt Kenya region, Mr Bernard Ndwiga.

In Kiminini, Ms Gloria Wamalwa, a large-scale macadamia farmer, lamented the prices have nosedived from Sh250 to Sh80 per kilo.
“The drop in prices has rendered macadamia farming a non-profitable investment. America and China have been our main markets but China has invested in the cultivation of the crop, which has affected the market," explained Ms Wamalwa.
The farmers said in order to benefit from the farming, one kilogramme of the nuts should fetch at least Sh100.
In Meru, Joshua Muriira, Macadamia Farmers Association Chairman, said macadamia prices were so low that they were forced to hawk the produce. 

The over 1,000 farmers in Taita Taveta are grappling with very low prices of the highly valued nuts that are currently selling as low as Sh20 at the farm gate. Brokers have flooded the macadamia zones in Wundanyi and Mwatate areas. 
"Right now I have over 200kg of macadamia nuts but I don't know where to sell them. I declined to sell to them when they visited me with an offer of Sh30 per kilo. 

They are conning farmers and buying at low prices. Sometimes we give in because we need to pay school fees for our children and sort other bills," said Mr Hajinton Mwakiom a farmer in Chome. 

Reporting by Lucy Mkanyika, Gitonga Marete, Irene Isagale, Mwangi Muiruri, George Munene, Alex Njeru, Martin Mwaura, Barnabas Bii, Fred Kibor, Tom Matoke, Waikwa Maina, Evans Jaola, Stanley Kimuge, Elizabeth Ojina, Benson Amadala, Mercy Mwende and Derick Luvega