The row over coffee reforms proposed by a team appointed by President Kenyatta deepened on Sunday after farmers in Embu asked him to disband the implementation committee and ignore the proposed changes.
The farmers said they want the President to appoint a fresh team that is willing to engage with bona-fide coffee stakeholders to find a lasting solution into the coffee woes in the country.
Embu coffee cooperatives chairmen through an advertisement placed in one of the dailies lamented that since the team led by Prof Joseph Kieyah took office confusion and uncertainty had marred the reform process.
In a joint statement, the farmers claimed the taskforce abandoned public participation with coffee cooperatives after the team got rejected in Meru last year.
They also expressed their dismay on the formation of a coffee implementation committee without their knowledge and even before some of their contentious issues on the reforms were resolved.
“Instead of taking the concerns raised by the coffee farmers’ representatives seriously, the chairman of the taskforce opted for friendly groups for validation of the regulations,” read in the statement.
Further, they raised concerns on the recent publication of the Nairobi Coffee Exchange trading rules in February which included the contentious Central Depository Unit.
“It is now very clear the government is hell-bent on implementing the regulations regardless of their rejection by coffee cooperatives,” read the advert.
The coffee cooperative leaders said the proposed changes in the taskforce, aimed at resuscitating the ailing sector, will destabilize their cooperatives societies to the detriment of the local economy.
Since the recommended regulation were proposed by the Kieyah-led team, coffee farmers across Central Kenya raised their concerns immediately and went ahead to court to file a case implementation of the same.
The farmers said the conservatory orders made at the Nyeri High Court in Nyeri County have also been ignored.
According to the farmers, they are opposed to general regulation that permits alternative groups to operate cherry processing activities saying it is “unwarranted and mischievous.”
They said the regulation is aimed at inviting farmers to move out of their societies with unsettled debts which will eventually prompt the collapse of the cooperatives.
“An alternative market for cherry will lead to massive theft of the produce both in farm and in the stores,” they said.
They added that in anticipatorily of the opportunity some business people have already set up shop in the county and enticed farmers to divert much of their crop from the societies.
Secondly, the farmers are opposed to the formation of the Coffee Depository Unit which they say was proposed to keep away thieving cooperative officials.
They exclaimed not all officials are after the farmers’ money.
“Existing laws must be enforced against errant officials instead of criminalizing all officials in general. Again, current trading regulations require that proceeds from coffee sale reach the growers bank account within two weeks of sale where most agents comply,” they said.
The CDU, they said is a reminiscent of the pool system of the yesteryears whose inefficiency led to its abolition.
They said the CDU undermines the mandate and authority of the society committees as provided for in the Cooperative Societies Act adding that they do not want government bureaucracy in the running of the cooperatives.
The farmers do not want the formation of the coffee pricing committee saying it is a thump in the way of free market forces.
“We cannot believe any person in this day and age can conceive such so superfluous an idea. Many cooperatives are now certified coffee producers who adhere to international best practices,” the farmers said.
They said price determination by geographical zoning, historical factors and general anticipation is unprogressive as should be role of the pricing committee.
Coffee cooperatives that have been providing school fees, medical expenses, payment of NSSF due among other social amenities feel that the new regulations are restricting them from the unique role they play.
“The new regulation restrict committees to basic operation budget and a diminished role by societies will lead to their collapse,” he said.
In addition, the farmers do not county governments to meddle in direct coffee marketing of their produce.
They said, county governments should only provide legislative, policy and financial support to boost coffee production.