Yes, the best of coffee boom is yet to come

Timothy Mirugi.

KPCU Managing Director Timothy Mirugi.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Timothy Mirugi is the managing director, New Kenya Planters Cooperative Union. He spoke to Sammy Waweru on the challenges and successes in the industry and why good tidings await farmers in the days to come

Have farmers benefited from the revival of KPCU in 2019?

The New KPCU is a government entity, under the State Department of Cooperatives, Ministry of Agriculture. Since it was revitalised, farmers have benefited from a number of services. They witness their coffee being milled, get milling statements showing different grades produced, and are able to predict how much they will earn. Lastly, we offer free warehousing until the product gets to the buyers. Further, the government through New KPCU has introduced subsidised farm inputs that include fertiliser and chemicals benefiting over 70,000 farmers.

While the market price of a bag of fertiliser retails between Sh6,500–Sh7,000, we sell ours at Sh3,600.  Farmers also access loans from the government's Cherry Fund at 2 percent interest rate.

Last year’s produce payout has been praised by farmers as one of the best in years. What caused this and how much did they earn?

There are two angles to it. First, reforms initiated by the government are yielding fruits as there is transparency and power is vested in farmers.  Second, for the last two years, Brazil has had a bad frost affecting almost their entire coffee plants. The calamity has caused a shortage of produce globally pushing up prices. A kilo of cherry has been going for between Sh85 and Sh128, the highest in the country.

Farmers in various coffee growing regions like Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Machakos are recording unprecedented rise in production this season. What has led to this and would it last?

Well, farmers are motivated and I see production rising even further in the next one year and this is because of the government reforms that include offering of subsidised fertiliser and the low cost loans.

There are several allegations of misappropriation of farmers’ funds in various cooperatives. What can New KPCU do to cushion farmers?

I agree the challenge has been there. However, we are sensitising farmers on their rights; that they should remove the corrupt officials and have them prosecuted. The coffee laws have given them powers to do so.

But that said, cherry funds ensure that we pay farmers directly through their phones or their accounts, and do not go through coffee cooperative societies. That is one way of reducing embezzlement.

Cases of coffee theft on farms and produce in factories are still rampant. What can be done to eliminate this?

It is sad that there are still cases of coffee theft. To eliminate such challenges, farmers should work with faithful partners like the New KPCU where their produce is guarded and insured. We have dozens of warehousing facilities across the country to curb theft.

I have never heard coffee stolen from a miller or a marketer. The harvests are always stolen at factory level, what shows these are inside jobs.

I advise farmers not keep their harvests at the society level where security measures are not strong.

What is the uptake of coffee Cherry Fund so far and are the coffee reforms working?

So far, we have disbursed Sh200 million from the Sh2.7 billion government kitty. The disbursement appears low but this is because of the initial challenges that include propaganda sold to farmers. But the fund is now picking momentum and the loan recovery is 100 per cent.

Has the Russian-Ukraine conflict affected Kenya's coffee exports?

The Russian market is not among the top destinations of Kenyan coffee. However, since Kenya imports fertiliser and raw material from the country, the conflicts have led to shortage of farm inputs and increase of prices. Germany is the largest consumer of our coffee, followed by the US and South Korea.

What is your message to coffee farmers as climate change effects unravel hurting crop production?

We have seen the coffee calendar disrupted as dry spells and rainy seasons alternate. The quality of beans have been affected as well, due to lack of rains. Farmers need to be cognizant of the fact that climate change is real and adopt scientific and modern technologies of farming. Let’s grow trees, protect our forest cover by saying no to deforestation.