A ticking time bomb is slowly brewing at Kenya’s ailing coffee industry over new regulations

Coffee farming in Kenya. (Daily Nation)
  • The newly published Crops (Coffee) (General) Regulations, 2019 that had been billed as the magic bullet to cure the ailing industry has now turned into a pain in the neck.
  • Among the radical proposals contained in the regulations is the requirement for the digitisation of the crop’s value chain by next year.
  • Coffee cooperatives have now warned they will move to court to block the implementation of rules after their attempt to get a response from the government were unsuccessful.

Kenya’s ailing coffee industry is threatening to come all crashing down as government and farmers read from different scripts over the new coffee regulations. 

The newly published Crops (Coffee) (General) Regulations, 2019 that had been billed as the magic bullet to cure the ailing industry has now turned into a pain in the neck.

Several cooperative societies in the coffee-growing Mt Kenya region have flatly rejected the regulations, terming them counterproductive.

On the other hand, the government is busy pushing for adoption of the regulations, which were published on July 1, following the recommendation of the Coffee Sector Task Force that was formed by President Uhuru Kenyatta, which after presenting its report, was converted into an implementation team.

Farmers grievances

The farmers contended that they were not consulted as per the constitutional requirement of public participation, yet as coffee growers, they are principal stakeholders in the coffee sector.

“The preamble to the regulations clearly state that the Cabinet Secretary only consulted the Agriculture and Food Authority and County Governments,” said the cooperatives in the memorandum signed by their chairmen, Standard reported.

As a result, the farmers contend complying with the requirement would be too costly, coming at a time when returns from the crop are at an all-time low.

The farmers have since drafted a comprehensive memorandum expressing their reservations with the Government’s plan on reforming the coffee sub-sector.

Bone of contention 

Among the radical proposals contained in the regulations is the requirement for the digitisation of the crop’s value chain by next year.

As per the new regulation it will now be a must for pulping stations to take samples to independent cupping laboratories for quality analysis. 

Coffee farmers are against this.

“This will lead to the reduced amount of coffee being taken to the market,” said Kirinyaga County-based Baragwi Farmers Co-operative Society Chairman Kimani Gatuguta. 

They further argue that the regulations are not pegged on any policy document developed by the Government in relation to the coffee sector and would only serve to increase the running costs of coffee growing and handling.

Another concern, according to the growers, is that the rules do not address production challenges. Coffee production in the country has stagnated at around 40,000 metric tonnes over the past five years, according to the farmers.

“Production is not only a factor of the price distribution, which is what these rules have majored on,” they said. 

At the same time the growers complained that the new rules fail to appreciate the role of the small and medium estate coffee growers who are the producers of at least 30% of the country’s coffee.

Taking action

The cooperatives leaders have warned they will move to court to block the implementation of rules after their attempt to get a response from Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and the Implementation Committee Chairman Prof Joseph Kieyah were unsuccessful.

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