NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 24 – There probably isn’t a country in the world that produces coffee whose quality and taste matches that of Kenya. In fact, when asked what Kenya is known for, many people will speak well of its coffee, tea, wildlife, athletes even if not in that particular order.
But behind the great tales of the country being a key producer of one of the world’s most beloved beverages, lies challenges. Farmers, whose produce is one of the country’s major exports, languish in poverty year in year out as there are barely any financial returns on their part. What’s more, the farmers face payment delays having to wait for six to eight months before receiving what little payments they earn.
The farmers haven’t been the only ones at the receiving end. In fact, the coffee sector in its entirety has faced several problems which include decline in the amount of coffee produced. Figuratively put, during the peak years, a tree of coffee produced 30KG of coffee cherry a year. Today, the yield has gone down to 2KG per year.
That’s not all.
Available data shows that the amount of coffee produced in the country has gone down to 40,000 tonnes last year, from 130,000 tonnes in the 1990s. Income earned has also gone to Sh15.18 billion from Sh50.6 billion.
Corruption is what has been ailing the sector, says a recently launched report. This has been in form of corrupt cooperatives who claim to represent farmers, to exploitive middlemen and brokers who allege to be marketing agents. There’s also been a lack of policies that take the interest of farmers to heart.
It however was not always like that. Coffee once enjoyed national prominence as the biggest foreign currency earner and provided a steady and reliable source of livelihood to millions of Kenyans.
There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel.
President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed a team earlier this year that was required to review the entire coffee value chain and identify areas that require interventions such as production, processing and marketing of coffee.
Undertaken by Professor Joseph Kieyah and Dr Richard Leresian Lesiyampe, the task force identified, among other things, that the current laws governing the coffee subsector are restrictive and do not allow farmers to freely participate in the coffee value chain and enjoy their rights.
“We also realized that the delay in coffee payments resulted in farmers borrowing expensive loans which ultimately lower their earnings and at the same time dissuaded youths from growing coffee altogether,” says the report compiled by the 19-member team.
Lawyers Dann Mwangi and Jasper Mbiuki from the Office of the President were joint secretaries of the task force that handed its report to the president earlier this month.
The report singled out the youth for not being interested in farming coffee with the average age of coffee farmers being 60 years.
It was also established that there are serious institutional weaknesses in key institutions that deal with the coffee sub-sector.