President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive to restructure the Kenya Planters Co-operative Union and the Kenya Farmers Association is beginning to show results.
Within a fortnight of the President’s order, Trade and Cooperatives Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya deregistered KPCU as a cooperative, appointed new managers for the organisation and invited detectives to interrogate the outgoing board of directors for possible culpability.
The minister has indicated that a forensic audit will guide his next steps in the bid to revive an entity that has been comatose since 1997.
The audit will seek to establish where KPCU assets went, whether it genuinely owes anyone other than farmers money and whether it would be still viable in the changed dynamics of coffee farming and marketing.
But the team will realise soon enough that it has a daunting task. For behind the woes of KPCU and other bodies established to support farmers, such as Kenya Farmers Association, sugar companies, National Cereals and Produce Board and the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya is blatant mismanagement, outright theft and political interference.
And the forces that abetted the vices for selfish gains are lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce and frustrate all efforts aimed at reviving the organisations.
Any serious attempts at revival should certainly come with naming and shaming as well as holding the plunderers to account.
The coffee landscape has greatly changed since the sector was liberalised with KPCU now facing competition in its key mandates — milling and marketing — even from farmers who have been licensed to do pulping.
Because of liberalisation, farmers are getting services from different players. And whether KPCU still has their goodwill is an important factor on the direction any restructuring will take.
That should call for a bottom-up approach in deciding which way a restructured union goes.
Luckily for the new managers, the report by the task force, led by Prof Joe Kieyah, went round the country seeking views on how to revamp the coffee sector, meaning that they do not have to start from scratch.
It proposed value addition at farm or cooperative level, specialty coffee, restructuring of coffee societies, removal of marketing agents, direct settlement system and creation of a Sh200 million fund to subsidise coffee inputs as ways of encouraging farmers to raise production.
In KPCU’s heyday, farmers produced 140,000 tonnes annually. Some of these reforms, especially paying proceeds to farmers, have been opposed by grower cooperative societies as they would render them irrelevant in the value chain.
Selected counties are also at various stages of implementing some of the proposals by virtue of agriculture being a devolved function.
The restructuring of KPCU should address grower concerns and work with counties as they would be key to sustaining the revamped organisation.