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Nyeri coffee, tea farmers push for minimum guaranteed returns

Minimum guaranteed returns and the availability of subsidised inputs for farmers are some of the key considerations that small-holder coffee and tea farmers in Nyeri would like the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries to include in the Tea Amendment Bill 2023 and Coffee Bill 2023.

Coffee and Tea farmers argued that any law meant to streamline the coffee sub-sector without provisions that will ensure that farmers enjoy the maximum benefit from their produce, will be an exercise in futility.

They say despite coffee and tea being some of the most profitable cash crops, its main producers are some of the most frustrated people in the agriculture value chain.

“We want a law that will ensure that the coffee or the tea farmer is the person of interest. If you analyze all other agricultural producers in the country, a coffee or tea farmer is the only person who goes through one of the lengthiest processes before they can receive earnings for their work. We have to wait a whole year to receive payment while the millers and the marketers are raking in millions from our sweat,” said Gichohi Ngure, an estate coffee farmer from Mukurwe-ini constituency.

The farmers drawn from Othaya, Mukurwe-ini, Mathira and Tetu were speaking at the Nyeri Cultural Centre during a public participation forum organized by the Senate Committee.

They also pushed for the establishment of a minimum guaranteed returns fund which they said will act as security for farmers as they will be assured of an income regardless of the crops performance in the international market.

Currently both coffee and tea payouts depend on how much the factory’s teas fetch at the international market and how much of those revenues was used to run the factory or society during that financial year.

“Let the government, either the National or County, set aside a minimum price at the beginning of the season that the farmer will be assured of receiving so that the farmer’s earnings are not affected by market fluctuations,” said Maina Wandahi a coffee farmer registered at the Hiriga Coffee factory in Mathira.

Farmers said that despite popularizing the fertilizer subsidy for farmers, many of them were yet to receive the input.

They lamented that the current system that requires farmers to get the input directly from the National Cereals and Produce Board Depots was limiting farmers who do not have ready cash.

Besides fertiliser, they also want the government to consider subsidizing other inputs such as chemicals and pesticides as a motivation for farmers to increase production.

“We would also like a review on the current system that is being used to distribute fertilizer to farmers because most of them are frustrated as the process doesn’t favour farmers. As we speak, many farmers have not received the said fertiliser. We are proposing that the fertilizer be distributed through factories so that they deduct the money directly from the farmer’s earnings,” said Newton Nderitu, a member of the Othaya Coffee society.

The committee has been collecting views from farmers on the two bills from tea and coffee growing counties. According to the chairman of the committee, Kamau Murango, who is also the Kirinyaga Senator, the committee will also be incorporating the views from elected leaders before forwarding it to the National Assembly for consideration.

Mr Murango said that the objective of the Coffee Bill 2023 is to provide guidelines that will shape the development and regulation of the Coffee industry.

The Bill is proposing to reorganize the coffee industry by transitioning the regulatory and commercial roles currently undertaken by the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) to the Coffee Board of Kenya.

It also seeks to change the research of coffee currently undertaken by the Coffee Research Institute under the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation to the Coffee Research Institute.

On the other hand the Tea Amendment Bill 2023, which is sponsored by Bomet Senator, Hillary Sigei, has proposed amendments to the Tea Act, 2020, to protect the tea growers’ proceeds from mismanagement by factories by liberalising the tea industry.

The Bill has also raised proposals to incentivise value addition of tea by exempting value added tea from payment of the tea levy among a host of other measures, which are geared at maximizing profits for smallholder farmers.

Mr Murango who was accompanied by Senators Alexander Munyi (Embu), Beth Kalunda (Kitui), David Wakoli (Bungoma) and Wahome Wamatinga (Nyeri), said that the Bills which are currently before the Senate are seeking to address issues of delayed payment for both coffee and tea farmers through sealing loopholes of the  Direct Settlement System(DSS).

According to Mr Murango, the DSS system will mean that coffee and tea marketers remit money to farmers not later than five days after receipt of produce.

“The DSS was meant to benefit the farmer by taking the payment directly to the farmers’ cooperatives in foreign currency but farmers were not represented in the Capital Markets Authority. They ended up nominating a single bank to take part in the DSS and farmers ended up losing up to Sh10 per dollar. We want to change that system to real time settlement in the same foreign currency so that money is sent directly to the cooperatives and the farmers receive their money not more than five days from the buyer of either coffee or tea,” said Mr Murango.

By Wangari Mwangi and Mercy Ndegwa

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