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Citizen Weekly

Monday, 4 August 2014

NO END TO NYERI COFFEE POLITICS AS GACHAGUA FEELS HEAT



There seems to be no end to Nyeri coffee farmers feuds as local coffee politics in the county come to haunt Governor Nderitu Gachagua. Local farmers are pointing figures at the governor and his allies for being behind the current problems facing them.


By late last week, word had it that a major demonstration was being planned to have coffee farmers and those who depend on the industry for survival to block roads and avenues leading to Gachagua’s offices and have him explain the true story of what was happening to the sector that is their lifeline. Claims have been that coffee said to have been exported is being stored in two go-downs outside the county after the would-be buyer was not comfortable with the deal.
Investigations reveal that apart from the mismanagement issues by those entrusted to market the coffee on behalf of the farmers, middle men famously known as brokers both at the local and international level have also led to poor sales of the product.

It is also widely believed that local politics within the county and among the political players have also resulted into the big loss currently being experienced by the farmers.
But even as Gachagua retreats to the boardroom to find best possible ways of handling the nonpayment of coffee farmers which is now threatening to get out of his hand, members of the Nyeri county assembly continue to blame the devolved government for delaying payment to farmers and accused it of selling the coffee at a price lower than what it had promised.


What is now worrying is the fact that despite assurance from Gachagua of instant and prompt payments, the farmers who have been waiting for the payment of their produce delivered more than a year ago are yet to be paid. The farmers are now tired of empty promises.

According to some of the farmers who have waited for payments for more than six months, the Nyeri county government promised to pay a minimum of Sh130 per kilogramme after marketing their produce internationally by bypassing local brokers.

County assembly majority leader Anthony Kibuu and chairman of the assembly agriculture committee James Kibira have come out to give ultimatum to the county government to pay the farmers promptly. They threatened to rally farmers to demand their dues, which they said was long overdue. “The farmers were promised payment by end of June. Now we are going into August and still they have not been paid,” he said.

The law requires that payment be made to farmers within 14 days after sale, according to the assembly official. Kibuu said he feared that the money may have been deposited in an individual’s account and was accruing interest. He has demanded to be told where the interest, which he said would be in millions, would be taken. It is said that farmers who defied a proposal by Gachagua to deliver coffee to Sagana Mills had obtained good prices. Those who played in the governor’s game plans are now baying for his blood.

Gachagua is now feeling the heat from farmers and local politicians as well as the Agriculture ministry officials for failing to honour the pledge he gave to farmers upon assuming office.
Gachagua’s initiative to market Nyeri coffee directly to various global market sources first met resistance from coffee farmers and politicians but farmers were convinced. Sources now say that Gachagua and his team underestimated the coffee marketing system hence the failure to pay farmers in time.

When the governor announced his new marketing plans, one of the dominant coffee dealers, C Dorman, through its managing director Bridget Carrington wrote a letter on January 14 this year to clients and friends around the world warning them of the developments in Nyeri.
According to well-placed sources, it is estimated coffee worth about Sh2 billion has been sold, of which farmers have received less than Sh355 million. Recently, Gachagua told farmers to be patient as they will have to wait for at least a month to get paid.

Sources say Gachagua is also feeling the heat from creditors who are demanding more than Sh850 million they advanced to farmers last year. Reports indicate that Taifa Sacco Limited advanced more than Sh125 million to coffee farmers in Nyeri.

According to Nyeri county assembly majority leader Anthony, the security of the loan was to be coffee proceeds of the year 2013/2014, which are yet to be fully paid for by the county government.

Local leaders are now demanding that Gachagua should not politicise the coffee sector but should address the farmers’ plight and stop dragging other players into his muddles.
But Gachagua in a quick rejoinder and in an attempt to quell the rising dissent from coffee farmers, vowed not to relent until Nyeri farmers are fully liberated from the chain of exploitative international buyers.

At one time, there were claims that Gachagua was fronting a team of investors including a close family member who have registered a company to deal with coffee auctions.
Whereas leaders wanted the governor to allow competition, he is against the move preferring one entity to control the coffee industry which boasts of over 800,000 farmers but who of late are not making any gains.

To control the coffee industry, Gachagua is said to have within months in office set up a taskforce to look into ways to revive the sector whose woes were blamed on poor prices and middlemen.

The taskforce was chaired by Wachira Mwago and on it were representatives from co-operative societies, ministry officials, growers’ regulators among other stakeholders.
Before releasing the report, Gachagua is said to have pushed for the recommendation of having county’s coffee being milled at Sagana Kenya Planters Cooperatives Union which is owned fully by KCCE thus locking out Central Kenya Coffee Mills Plant that has invested more than Sh150 million.

It is said Gachagua and his schemers want to buy KPCU plant in near future at a throw-away price.
Currently, industry players say the Sagana plant is being targeted by Gachagua camp due to a number of reasons. Its capacity of handling seven tonnes of parchment coffee per hour. It also enjoys four warehouses which can accommodate 200,000 bags for a period of a year without compromising its quality.

It has been insured by Co-operatives Insurance Company and has state of art weighbridge that handles 60 tonnes axle load with well checked ticket automatically generated machines.
Caught in the controversy is county executive in charge of agriculture Shadrack Mubea, a sidekick of Gachagua and the governor’s wife who was instrumental in lobbying to have him land the slot.

Gachagua is said to have played a role to have the government proposal to have centralised coffee milling in the region with farmers openly opposed to it. The targeted miller has operated for over 10 years.

In the neighbouring Kiambu county, coffee farmers decry poor prices as leaders call for state intervention. Coffee factories in Mukurweini sub-county had borrowed more than Sh62 million, Othaya Sh5million; Mathira more than Sh52 million and Nyeri Central Sh125 million from Taifa Sacco. Coffee millers and marketers are demanding Sh132 million, under the umbrella body, Commercial Coffee Millers and Marketing Agents Association which they had advanced as credit to contracted farmers.