Leaders want Rift Valley coffee farmers included in subsidy programmes

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai (left) and Kipkelion Member of Parliament Hillary Koskei during the International Coffee day marked at Kipkelion District Cooperative Union (KDU) milling plant in Fort Tenan on October 1, 2022

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

Coffee farmers in the Rift Valley were allegedly sidelined in subsidy programmes rolled out by the government over the years while those in other regions benefited.

Some leaders from the region claimed farmers, especially in the South and North Rift regions, were locked out of the Sh3 billion Cherry Advance Revolving Fund and subsidised fertilisers, inhibiting production and leading to losses.

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai, Nandi Deputy Governor Yulita Cheruiyot and Kipkelion West MP Hillary Mutai said President William Ruto’s administration should correct the anomaly.

They spoke at the Kipkelion District Cooperative Union (KDCU) offices in Kericho County during International Coffee Day celebrations, where farmers were urged to adopt modern farming practices to spur production and raise their profit margins.

The KDCU brings together 67 cooperative societies from Bomet, Kericho and Nandi counties.

Kericho is the fifth largest coffee-producing region in Kenya, according to the Agricultural Food Authority (AFA), with farmers in the Central, Rift Valley, Eastern, Coastal, Nyanza and Western regions growing the cash crop.

“The Jubilee administration, especially under the leadership of Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, punished farmers in the Rift Valley for political expediency, affecting production of food and cash crops,” Dr Mutai claimed.

“We are looking up to the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) government to revamp the agricultural sector.”

The new government was also asked to open the Nairobi Coffee Exchange for local cooperatives to sell their products, with claims that the Kipkelion Brokerage Company, fully owned by farmers through KDCU, had been blocked from the trading platform.

Mr Festus Bett, KDCU’s chief executive officer, and chairman Mathew Bore said that while they could directly export their produce, they were not allowed into the bourse as a result of draconian legislation.

In February this year, KDCU exported 134.4 million metric tonnes of coffee to South Korea, the first direct sale of the produce by farmers in Kenya under reforms undertaken by the government.

It followed a deal with farmers during the Seoul Coffee Expo in July, 2021, with growers earning Sh105.1 million from the export. In effect, they sold a kilo of cherry for an average of Sh116.

The Capital Markets Authority (CMA), the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development, the Coffee Directorate and the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) were instrumental in enabling the export deal to go through.

Reforms in the sector allowing direct exports, initiated by former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee administration in 2016, were steered by Prof Joseph Keiyah under the Coffee Sub-Sector Reforms Implementation Standing Committee.

Governor Mutai said his administration will build a warehouse for the Kipkelion Coffee Mills and purchase a roaster and packaging machines to enable the cooperative union to add value to the produce before offloading it to the market.

He said this would enable the miller to sell a kilo of processed coffee for Sh600 as opposed to the prevailing retail price of Sh100.

“I want to implore local institutions, starting with the county executive and the assembly, to set aside two days a week when employees and visitors can take coffee so as to support local farmers and enterprises. The same model should be adopted in homes,” Dr Mutai said.

The county will empower farmers, especially women, youths, those with disabilities and other vulnerable groups by issuing three million coffee seedlings to them so as to increase production and spur economic growth.

“The recent change from Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (KPCU) to the New KPCU in the name of implementing reforms in the sector was fraudulent and should be reversed by the new government,” Kipkelion West MP Hillary Koskei said.

“It is clear that it was meant to benefit a crop of politically correct brokers in the industry at the expense of farmers.”

Mr Koskei expressed confidence that the government’s economic recovery plans anchored on agriculture will bear fruit, with farmers expected to raise production for local consumption and export.

Dr Cheruiyot said the Coffee Research Institute has helped Nandi County raise seedlings for cooperative societies that will be given to farmers through a subsidy programme.

“We are constructing a coffee milling plant in Tinderet constituency so that farmers can add value to their produce. The North and South Rift region has a high potential of leading the country in production of coffee,” Dr Cheruiyot said.

“We are appealing to the government to ensure that farmers in the region have access to subsidised fertilisers to spur production, create employment opportunities for the people and boost the economic growth trajectory in the country.”

The Rift Valley is known for production of maize, wheat and tea, but a huge chunk of the region has a high potential for growing coffee.