End coffee shutdown to spare farmers losses


Metrin Wafula, a coffee farmer at Cheptais in Bungoma County harvests ripe berries. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The dip in the price and volumes of coffee at the Nairobi exchange is the culmination of months of confusion and turmoil in the key sector, which calls for urgent action to prevent a total collapse of the key sector.

The numbers are damning, with volumes down by 95.6 percent in August to just 192 tonnes, and the average price of a 50kg bag down 31.1 percent to Sh183.41.

The country now risks losing its already strained global market share to other producers, which will be difficult to reverse.

In the midst of arguments over the issuance of licences and certification of Kenyan coffee, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that farmers are presently barely earning anything for their produce.

This is produce that has gobbled up cash to pay for fertiliser, pesticides, labour and transport, costs that are normally repaid through sales proceeds.

Job losses in the coffee chain also loom, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of families at a time when they are already strained by high cost of living.

At the heart of the crisis are the reforms being rolled out by government, which understandably had to come with some painful realignments due to the scale of changes being proposed.

These reforms do not, however, have to result in a shutdown of the sector, if rolled out properly.

The first step is to sort out the confusion over licences, and the question of oversight or regulation of the market.

It is only when the millers and brokers are properly licensed that the other reforms in areas such as marketing and pricing mechanism can be fully effected.