Coffee woes continue as union threatens to go to court

KPCU claims regulator has denied it permits to move crop and access to auction

Monday February 15 2016

A coffee farmer harvests her crop in Nyeri. Kenya Planters Co-operative Union has threatened to go to court claiming the Coffee Directorate has barred it from the Nairobi Coffee Auction. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A coffee farmer harvests her crop in Nyeri. Kenya Planters Co-operative Union has threatened to go to court claiming the Coffee Directorate has barred it from the Nairobi Coffee Auction. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By EDWIN OKOTH
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A move by the Kenya Planters Co-operative Union to go to court claiming unfair treatment, will further delay a return to smooth operations in a sector that has been through a very rough patch.

The union said the Coffee Directorate has barred it from the Nairobi Coffee Auction as well as denied it movement permits for farmers seeking to supply it with the beans.

KPCU chairman William Gatei said the action has resulted in loss of the beans in their points of sales as well as financial bleeding.

“We now have more than 800 bags stuck in Kenyenya, Kisii and they cannot move to Nairobi. This is happening in other areas as well and is not working in the interest of the farmer who needs money and is not able to guarantee security of coffee. It is a deliberate attempt to push farmers into hands of selected players largely drawn from outside Kenya. This is very unfair to us,” said Mr Gatei.

The union is now moving to court to compel the regulator to withdraw the directives.

In a letter dated August 3, 2015, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority warned KPCU from buying the beans directly from farmers in what the regulator termed illegal coffee dealing.

KPCU also said the regulator has denied it the ISO certification needed to export coffee to clients they have already secured in the global market, further pushing it into potential insolvency.

FAVOURED SOME PLAYERS

The union’s operations director Justus Kiago said the regulator had clearly favoured some players and could no longer be relied on to promote fair play.

“We have a letter that seeks to bar us under repealed or draft regulations and we wonder why there can be this malicious intention to frustrate a farmers’ organisation. I think the fact that we pay farmers in cash immediately they give us coffee beans is a threat to some players since they pay farmers after five months. We will not allow farmers to suffer when the very regulator who is meant to protect them has turned against their own,” Mr Kiago said.

(READ: Looting of Kenya's giant coffee union)

The Competitions Authority of Kenya had singled out the agricultural sector as those on its radar for rampant anti-competitive conducts.

CAK director general Francis Wang’ombe said the authority had not received specific complaints from the coffee sector but is considering scrutiny into such market practices that hurt competition.

“That sector (agriculture) is one of those we are keen on because of trading practices that may be un-competitive. We will give it more focus even though we have not received specific complaints relating to coffee but any practice that affect the economy and has impact on the poor by being anti-competitive, will definitely be given renewed focus,” said Mr Wang’ombe.

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