By Nicholas Murithi
I read the article titled “lack of cash dashes hopes of reviving coffee sector” by Gitonga Marete and Elijah Mwangi with a lot of interest.
Indeed, there is a big challenge in reviving the coffee sector in Meru County. And one of the reasons is due to the low morale by farmers who have been neglected since the sector went to the dogs in 1988.
Let me state from the outset that I hail from Meru County. I was brought up and educated from the proceeds of the coffee farm that my parents ran. I am now a coffee farmer and thus in the thick of things.
It is not easy to revive a sector that has been deliberately mismanaged for more than three decades and get positive results right away. It requires a lot of patience and sacrifice from all the stakeholders.
This is one of the facts that the leadership and the management of the sector are not conveying to the farmers. They are raising false optimism that may make things even worse. Why?
The county government last year took a loan of Sh200 million from the Co-operative Bank so that it could advance farmers money to work their farms and sort out their personal needs before the main payout.
This will not work. What is making this noble idea not work is that most of the societies are in debts. So, what do they do?
They use farmers’ money to pay for the same. Some of these debts date way back as far as 1981. It is unfair for a cooperative society to force farmers to settle such debts.
Some them were incurred by members who have since passed on, while others have since stopped coffee farming.
To sort out this mess, an audit must be carried out to determine how much and how such debts were incurred.
Right now farmers are complaining that the Sh20 per kilogram is just too low, but they must comprehend that it’s better than nothing due to the poor quality of their crop.
We must advise our farmers to tend their farms, just like our counterparts in Mathira and Kirinyaga. There is no shortcut about this.
Again, the coffee sector should embrace direct marketing and, of course, with the governments’ support. I am confident it is possible for Kenya to realise 180,000 metric tons from the current 40,000.
It’s time all the coffee industry stakeholders rolled up their sleeves and worked.
It would be proper too if the subsidies by the government, which are coming in July, be disbursed early to relieve Meru farmers who are currently picking their main cherry.
More must be done, especially on the management of the cooperative societies. Without this it all will be an exercise in futility.