Widespread theft of coffee beans is eating into farmers’ earnings.
Central Kenya, where some of the best coffee in terms of quality comes from, has borne the brunt of the thefts with smallholder farmers losing millions of shillings to armed gangs that raid factories at night and cart away bags of unshelled beans.
And now officials of coffee factories in Murang’a County suspected to be colluding with cartels to steal cherry have been put on notice.
According to Murang’a County Commissioner Mohammed Barre, the thefts are similar with guards being tied up in the same manner before the coffee is carted away.
The administrator said factory officials work in cahoots with thieves.
He asked farmers to vote out the officials whenever there are theft cases at their plants.
He wondered how thieves break into the factories, walk straight to stores, tie guards, then package the best coffee grades and leave without being apprehended.
“This has to stop. Corrupt coffee factory officials are on our radar and anyone arrested for stealing from poor and innocent farmers will face the full wrath of the law,” the administrator said.
The security team, he added, is alert since the coffee harvesting season is approaching.
Mr Barre said he will enhance patrols to curb cases of coffee theft.
“We’re heading to the harvesting season and coffee factory officials should be warned over the theft of farmers’ produce. We cannot condone situations where farmers invest only for the corrupt to sell their coffee under the guise that it has been stolen,” the commissioner said.
He stressed the need for proper management of coffee factories for farmers to earn better returns, adding that coffee remains the world’s favourite with good returns.
Last month, the county government announced plans to merge all factories to operate under Murang’a Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union in an attempt to revive the ailing sector which has performed poorly due to mismanagement.
Governor Mwangi Wa Iria said the semi-autonomous entities have contributed to the downfall of the sector which used to support many families in the region.
While meeting delegates from all the 146 coffee factories, the governor said the county government will only partner with the union on behalf of farmers.
He added that it will be hard for his administration to deal directly with individual factories.
The sector, Mr Wa Iria noted, will only be reformed if factory operations and marketing of cherry are done by one body, which is the union.