Kenya will not export raw coffee to international markets if marketing changes sponsored by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria are passed in Parliament.
The proposed amendment to the Crops Act contains far-reaching changes to the growing and marketing of the crop, key among them being a ban on export of raw export of coffee beans.
It creates a situation where exporters will be expected to process, pack and brand Kenyan coffee before shipment and branding it with a ‘Made in Kenya’ label.
In a letter to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Kuria says he expects the Bill to correct the imbalance of trade and increase farmers' earnings.
“Exporting of raw coffee….leads to farmers not reaping maximum benefits from their produce,” reads the letter.
The Speaker has allowed the MP to go ahead with the amendments.
“We banned the export of raw nuts from Kenya without a fuss. Sasa nisisikie makelele (I should not hear noises). I was educated courtesy of the coffee industry and I have to ensure millions of children get the same privilege,” he said Wednesday.
The legislation mandates each county to form a coffee parastatal to roast, mill, pack and brand the products if millers and marketers do not.
“If private firms try to sabotage the branding process, the coffee parastatals will take over the functions,” he said, adding that although promotion of Agriculture is a devolved function the Crops Act can be amended from parliament then anchored in subsequent county laws.
He said the Bill is being drafted and will be fast-racked to ensure approval in 60 days and that he has lobbied MPs and the Executive. Once the proposals receive the speaker’s nod, drafters will work on the specifics and give the Bill to the Agriculture committee for debate in the House.
According to the Coffee Directorate, only three per cent of coffee is processed locally while the rest is exported raw. The country produced 42, 000 MT in the 2016/17 coffee year in comparison to 46, 121 MT achieved in 2015/16 coffee year marking a nine per cent drop. The decline was partially attributed to climate change.
Mr Kuria said premium Kenyan coffee is being sold at US coffee retailer StarBucks at 90 dollars(Sh9,100) per kilo yet Kenyan farmers receive between Sh20-120 depending on the co-operative society and quality of their produce.
“If farmers receive only 10 per cent of this price per kilo, which is Sh900 per kilo, they will benefit a lot,” said Mr Kuria, adding that Kenya imports most of its products as finished products yet it exports raw produce.
“We import phones and other equipment fully finished from China, US and Europe. Why should we export our main crops unprocessed?” he posed.
Millers refused to comment on the proposed law until they read the contents of the Bill.
Previous attempts to change the way coffee is marketed have not succeeded. For instance, despite the introduction of an option for direct sale of coffee from farmers to buyers, only 10 per cent of the produce is sold directly. Kenya still exports about 90 per cent of its coffee through the Nairobi Coffee Exchange, which is dominated by foreign firms.
In 2014, Nyeri farmers stopped taking their produce to the exchange after the county government promised to find alternative markets for them abroad.
Most farmers in Nyeri, however, failed to secure orders under the direct-sales system, leading to a massive crop pile-up.
Alluding to the challenges ahead, the MP said if leaders and stakeholders dilly-dally on the Bill, he will hold grassroot meetings with farmers to seek their support.
“I expect a lot of resistance from stakeholders but the legislation is good for the country and farmers. Iam a fighter and I will see the reforms through,” he added.
Politicians have also been accused of playing politics with the crop to gain popularity, an accusation Mr Kuria may face.
“There is no problem with politics if it is good politics,” he said.
Other politicians have pending legislation on coffee. Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata has proposed a minimum prices ceiling for coffee farmers to cushion them against the vagaries of the market .
Additional reporting by Irene Mugo