The coffee 'boom' that turned out to be 'hot air"

Seeds of Gold clinic

Edward Mbajo (second right), a coffee supervisor at Dedan Kimathi University, discusses with farmers about coffee in a farm visit during a Seeds of Gold farm clinic at Dedan Kimathi University in Nyeri County on October 29, 2022. Farmers in Meru have protested low bonus paid for their produce.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi I Nation Media Group

Coffee farmers in Meru who expected to earn Sh100 a kilo were shocked after some societies paid as little as Sh45.

Farmers from across the county said that last year, former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya promised them prices would “hit a record high of Sh100” and told them to prepare for a “boom” they had never witnessed before.

The farmers said it was demoralising that they were getting only Sh45 a kilo.

“We had suffered a lot and they were aware that our coffee would not fetch that much but because they wanted to play politics they promised us what they knew was impossible, which was unfair,” said Jackson Mugambi, a farmer in Kariene, Imenti Central.

But farmers affiliated to the Mikumbune coffee society in Imenti South were paid Sh81 a kilo, the highest in the county. The ministry made empty promises knowing well that coffee prices are determined by many factors, said society secretary Josphat Kwiriga.

“The problem is that they played politics, with farmers being given promises that could not be fulfilled because what determines prices is quality and the prevailing market conditions,” he said.

“It was also difficult to access fertiliser that was promised because of bureaucracy at the KPCU [Kenya Planters Cooperative Union], so production was affected. I ordered fertiliser worth Sh11 million for my farmers that has never been delivered and I had to seek alternatives.”

Meru Coffee Millers Union (MCMU) chairman Zablon Mbaabu said the biggest hurdle to better earnings was the refusal by the ministry for unions to market their produce directly to buyers.

“For our case, we had secured an agreement with a firm called Good Beans from South Korea that would have seen the farmer get at least Sh100 a kilo but the ministry opposed the deal,” Mr Mbaabu, who is also a committee member at the National Coffee Cooperative Union (Naccu), told the Nation in a phone interview.

“We are expected to source for best markets and when we were blocked, we wondered who the ministry was working for if not for the benefit of the famous cartels in the coffee sector and these are some of the reasons farmers are lamenting today,” he added.

Farmers now blame politicians in former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government and called for a reversal of some of the regulations that were published during Mr Munya’s reign at the ministry.

Naccu has already petitioned President William Ruto, seeking a reversal of the rules introduced by Mr Munya.

They protested that the Crops (Coffee) (General) (Amendments) Regulations 2022 had worked against the reforms envisaged in the coffee sector and called on the President to revoke them.

For instance, the Capital Markets Authority (CMA), which was mandated to license coffee marketers, was stripped of the role, which was handed to the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA).