The setting up of a task force to investigate the exploitation of coffee farmers marks the first victory of a campaign launched last November by the Nation Media Group to salvage one of the country’s economic pillars.
The team appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta and led by Prof Joseph Kieyah, will advise how the vicious cartels wreaking havoc in the once-lucrative sector can be destroyed.
“We will look at the entire value chain and advise on what can be done to save the Kenyan coffee farmer,” pledged Prof Kieyah.
The Nation exposed how farmers are caught between profit-seeking international coffee houses and their local networks in a system that takes advantage of rural farmers and their cooperative societies.
We found that millers, marketing agents, traders, dealers and brokers had colluded over the years to keep Kenyan coffee prices down and increase their profits.
As a result, billions of shillings that could have been paid to farmers end up in the pockets of those behind these networks as the crop is sold at knockdown prices at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange.
Ironically, this set-up is supported by the Coffee Act that favours the brokers, millers and traders and frustrates new entrants not linked to the network.
“If this task force manages to overhaul the laws governing coffee, we will have made a giant step,” says Farmers’ Party leader David Kigochi.
Those who have tried to bypass the Nairobi Coffee Exchange, hoping to get better returns, found the overseas market locked to them, thanks to the cartels.
“They badmouth anyone who tries to sell coffee without passing through them,” an insider told the Nation in November.
The Coffee Directorate has allowed companies that own milling licences to also have marketing and dealer licences, which leaves farmers’ interests at stake — and with no one to turn to in case of a dispute.