The year 2017 will go down as one of the most challenging for coffee farmers, with the government’s attempts to reform the ailing sub-sector failing to have any impact.
It is also the year when most growers realised poor harvests owing to bad weather and drought in 2016 and early last year. Nonetheless, Kenyan coffee fetched good prices in the world market. But with the anticipated reforms still in limbo, there’s little for most farmers to smile about.
And they may be headed for another round of discontent following a stalemate between officials of co-operative society smallholder farmers who use saccos to market their crop and the Coffee Subsector Implementation Committee (CSIC).
This is the committee implementing reforms proposed by a task force to resuscitate the sub-sector.
Poor working relationship between the CSIC and the societies’ officials has been a disadvantage to growers. Some are yet to start accessing subsidised fertiliser. The cheap farm input is one of the proposals made by the task force that the CSIC has successfully implemented.
Some societies still buy fertiliser from retailers, maintaining that there has never been communication from the CSIC or their devolved governments on availability of the cheaper one. Farmers have also been unable to access money for cherry advance even after being provided with Sh1.7 billion (USD16.5m) kitty for the same purpose.
The fund established through the Co-operative Bank of Kenya was one of the task force’s proposals. It is also becoming a white elephant.
Commissioner for Co-operatives Mary Mungai has been urging officials of farmers’ unions to take advantage of the fund with limited success. “Millers and marketing agents are not allowed to lend growers money due to conflict of interest,” warns Ms Mungai.
And in Bungoma and Trans Nzoia counties, there are cases of brokers buying cherries from farmers at throw-away prices and selling the same to Uganda dealers at a profit. The government has, however, denied this.
Among the proposals the union officials have opposed is the creation of a Central Depository Unit (CDU), a new payment system, and the setting up of a committee by the Agriculture Foods Authority, the industry’s regulator, to propose coffee prices.