The golden years for coffee farmers in Mt Kenya are back if last season's record high payments are anything to go by. And cooperatives in Nyeri, Embu, Murang’a and Kirinyaga that paid coffee farmers the highest rates note that selling their produce directly to overseas buyers paid off.
A number of cooperative societies in the region are currently making direct sales to buyers, what enabled farmers to earn Sh12 billion last year.
They paid farmers Sh100 per kilo of cherry delivered to them after selling 90 per cent of their coffee to the overseas buyers instead of through the Nairobi Coffee Exchange.
The highest paid farmers in the region are from Nyeri’s Thiriku Coffee Society in Tetu constituency. The society paid farmers Sh121 per kilo, followed by those from Kibirigwi Farmers Cooperative Society in Kirinyaga that paid Sh118 per kilo of coffee.
This is after inking a five-year deal with a Dutch coffee buying company named Trabocca Bv. According to Thiriku society chairman Karoki Waiganjo, farmers will earn Sh100 per kilo of their produce while the Sh21 will be used for factory operation cost.
He added that at the beginning of every coffee year, the farmers have room to renegotiate their deal for a higher pay.
The money will be paid directly to the farmers.
Besides offering the highest pay, Trabocca Bv will help the factory access cheap finance to improve the processing infrastructure such as tiling of the fermentation tanks and drying beds as well as pay for transportation cost from the factory to the dry mill as well as the milling charges.
This is not the first time the Dutch company is buying coffee from Nyeri farmers. Last year, they bought tonnes of coffee from Ndaroini Coffee Growers Association in Mathira that paid farmers Sh115 per kilo.
The contract was, however, terminated after the management was accused of bloating the kilos delivered to the Dutch company and allowing non-registered farmers from other factories to benefit from the high pay, which was contrary to their agreement.
According to Mr Waiganjo, farmers in his cooperative have been neglecting the crop due to poor return but the higher pay will motivate them.
The factory harvested 174,000 kilos last year, down from 230,000 in the previous year where they paid farmers Sh68 per kilo.
"We want to enhance the quality of our coffee as well as increase production in the coming years because we have seen farmers can reap from their labour," Mr Wanjohi said.
According to a Coffee Directorate report, farmers in the country produced 36,873MT of coffee earning farmers Sh17.4 billion with counties in the central region taking the lion share of it.
Out of this, farmers in Kiambu earned Sh3.6 billion, Kirinyaga Sh2.9 billion, Murang’a Sh2.3 billion while those in Nyeri Sh2.1 billion.
However, the highest paid farmer across the country was from Nandi County as he took home Sh160 per kilo of coffee delivered in his factory while the lowest Sh60 per kilo from West Pokot.
The Kenya Coffee Platform said an increase in demand for affordable housing has seen coffee farmers sell their farms for better and immediate returns to players in the real-estate sector.
The report shows land under coffee is being converted into sites for the construction of blocks of flats and commercial buildings in Nyeri, Kiambu, Murang’a and Meru counties. The report further indicates that the past crop year has been challenging due to declining volumes of harvested coffee as a result of adverse weather conditions and climate change.
Coffee production forecast was estimated to reach 39,000 metric tonnes in the 2018/2019 crop year, but farmers produced 36,873 metric tonnes in 2019/2020, down from 44,990 metric tonnes.
Sh101.10 per kilo
Kibirigwi Farmers Cooperative Society in Kirinyaga with eight factories paid between Sh100 and Sh118 per kilo, while Baragwi with 12 factories between Sh86 and Sh106 per kilo of coffee.
Thirikwa cooperative society paid farmers Sh107.50 while Rwama Sh100.55.
In Nyeri, Barichu cooperative with three factories paid Sh101.10 per kilo. Tens of other factories are yet to announce their payout rates but farmers are expecting an average of over Sh100.
Kibugu cooperative in Embu County paid out Sh107.65 per kilo of cherry.
Agronomist Charles Karinga said the new prices were helped by a weak shilling against the dollar, adding that there was an improved production of quality coffee graded in AA, AB and PB.
Farmers however suffered a myriad of challenges that include heavy rains, which meant coffee trees didn't undergo stress that spurs flowering.
With direct sales options proving to be sustainable in the backdrop of quality beans, farmers will no longer be held at ransom by middlemen who have been taking the lions share of their pay.