Deputy President (DP) Rigathi Gachagua is set to preside over a three-day Coffee Stakeholders Conference in Meru town which officially kicks off on Friday morning.
The conference which will be held at Three Steers Hotel will be graced by county governors, senators, MPs, MCAs, national government officials, farmers and coffee sector players who will come up with key reforms for the sub-sector.
The leaders and delegates started flocking the venue on Thursday evening before holding a briefing on the conference expectations.
DP Gachagua has been spearheading reforms in the coffee and tea sector and has promised to pluck out cartels who are said to be impoverishing the common farmer.
The conference comes at a time when farmers say they were short-changed when the government took over the Kenya Planters’ Cooperative Union (KPCU) where their shares are held.
The coffee farmers have appealed to the government to hand over the new KPCU mill to them since they contributed shares worth Ksh600 million to the defunct KPCU.
The conference also comes amid high expectations among farmers that the government will fix coffee production and marketing challenges.
According to coffee cooperative leaders in the county, key expectations from the conference include commitment by the government to provide coffee inputs subsidy, provision of extension officers, rehabilitation of coffee factories, and timely payment of farmers as well as opening up of the lucrative coffee market.
Meru Central Coffee Cooperative Union (MCCCU) Chairman Ephantus Majau said that they expect the government to commit to enforcement of the Coffee Regulations 2019 which introduced a raft of reforms in the sub-sector.
“As a co-operative movement across the country, we are in support of the coffee regulations 2019 because they favour the farmer. It regulates the management of coffee proceeds to ensure the farmer is paid in time. It also allows societies to sell their coffee directly without going to the auction,” Majau said.
He said another expectation farmers have of the DP Gachagua led conference include introduction of guaranteed minimum return for coffee.
“Currently, farmers do not know how much they will earn from their coffee. A guaranteed minimum return should take into consideration the production cost. Another reform we want is to have clarity on ownership of the coffee after the farmer gives it to the factory. Currently, the coffee belongs to the farmer until it is sold at the auction. This exposes the farmer to many risks,” he said.
“There is need for a change where the farmer is paid at least 80 per cent as they wait for the sale. The balance and any extra income can be paid after the sale,” he suggested.
The MCCCU chairman also said that the Ministry of Agriculture should empower coffee unions to access subsidized farm inputs on behalf of farmers.
“Since coffee is a key foreign income earner, we expect the government to also get actively involved in looking for markets,” said Majau.
Meru County is one of the major coffee producers in the country and its farmers were among the first Africans to grow coffee when the colonialists, in 1933, allowed an experiment of coffee cultivation in Kisii, Embu and Meru.
By John Majau
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