Hope for coffee millions dying as buyers fail to honour deals

Thursday July 11 2019

Gachatha Coffee Factory in Nyeri

Workers sort coffee parchment at Gachatha Coffee Factory in Nyeri. Hopes of thousands of farmers that direct sales with overseas buyers would bring them immense benefits are now dying. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

IRENE MUGO
By IRENE MUGO
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Four years ago, dignitaries from across the world toured the country, eyeing coffee produced mainly in Mt Kenya region.

Thousands of farmers hoped that direct sales with overseas buyers would bring immense benefits to them if the buying prices were anything to go by.

The partnership agreements farmers entered into were hailed as a great solution to one of the problems the coffee subsector faced.

In the much hyped agreements, farmers expected to earn two times more after signing deals with the international buyers, who would buy coffee directly from their respective co-operatives.

BROKERS

This meant that farmers would be eliminating intermediaries – marketers and millers – along the value chain, who eat into their earnings and, at the same time, avoid the Nairobi Coffee Exchange that sells 15 percent of Kenyan coffee overseas.

But this was not to be as farmers did not have a chance to negotiate, propose or even get into any deal with the buyers.

The buyers visited Gikanda Coffee Co-operative, Rumukia and Othaya coffee societies which have managed to have their own coffee mills and promised farmers that they would spur their income through direct sales of their clean coffee.

“They had the willingness to buy our coffee and we were really anticipating to leverage our income but we have never heard anything from them since then,” said Mr Joseph Mukuha, chairman of Ndaroini Growers Association.

DIGNITARIES

The dignitaries arrived in toe with officials from both the county government and the coffee directorate, led by its former interim director Glenville Miili.

They assessed the co-operatives’ infrastructure and produce, carried samples and then left.

“We just moved from one co-operative to another since we were told they were coming for an originality and traceability programme and cupping process, but since then…nothing,” noted an official from Rumukia Coffee Society.

In 2016, the Speciality Coffee Association of America (SCAA), representatives from Brazil, Hong Kong, Colombia, China and Myanmar flocked Kenya with the sole purpose of inking deals with coffee co-operatives that would see them buy coffee directly from them.

COFFEE GRADES

According to Mr Mukuha, the coffee buyers primarily assessed the factories and the coffee that was already harvested before pronouncing that they would buy all speciality coffee – Grade AA, AB and PB – produced in the county that fetch higher prices at the local and international markets.

But no follow-up has been made on the matter to date.

The trip was facilitated by the Nyeri County government and the Coffee Directorate of Kenya, whom farmers claim never made follow ups that would benefit them.

“They carried samples from all the factories that form the co-operatives and left for cupping at the Aberdare Country Club but they never gave feedback,” Mr Mukuha added.

NO FOLLOW-UP

The trip was facilitated by the county government of Nyeri and the coffee directorate of Kenya who farmers claim never made follow-ups that would benefit them.

“There has never been any form of communication from either the county government or the coffee directorate.; we were left stranded wondering what was the purpose of that visit because it did not benefit any of us,” noted Mr Mukuha.

Farmers were to get into an agreement with the buyers and then file the deal with the coffee directorate and, according to Mr Mukuha, the latter created a bureaucracy that derailed their breakthrough.

The county’s role, he said, was to facilitate the marketing of coffee produced in Nyeri and ensure the buyers signed an agreement with the farmers to enhance direct sale.

QUALITY BEANS

Kenya grows only one percent of the world’s coffee every year but it is renowned for producing high quality beans which are sought after by global organisations for blending with lower quality classes of beans.

Currently, the country is producing 45,000 tonnes of coffee compared to 130,000 tonnes produced in the 1980s.

According to data from the coffee directorate the country produced 41.4 million kilos of clean coffee in 2017-2018 compared to 38.6 million kilos in the previous year, marking a seven percent increase.

Farmers faulted their agents for hindering the success of sealing the deals as they milk millions of shillings from their gross pay to cater for milling and marketing charges.

OUTSMARTED

“When the buyers meet with the marketers, we never hear from them again because they outsmart us by brokering a deal with the buyers instead of them coming directly to the farmer,” said the official from Rumukia co-operative.

They also blamed regulations by the coffee directorate that dictate that buyers must pass through the millers and marketers for them to sell their coffee.

“We lack knowledge on the logistical intricacies of exporting coffee and it is the government’s [responsibility] to educate the farmers,” added the official.

BUY DIRECTLY

Coffee buyers prefer buying directly from the farmers because of the traceability aspect of the deal.

A majority of the farmers opine that had the deals materialised, they would have been cushioned from the current price challenges that they are facing.

Farmers in the county are earning as little as Sh15 per kilo of coffee they produced last year.

“There was too much hype on direct sales that were supposed to save us from previous years of poor coffeeprices but the situation has remained the same,” said Mr Kamau Mbembe, a farmer from Mukurwe-ini.