Kenya: It Is a Dog’s Life for Coffee Farmers in Kisii

Abisai Nyagesiba Mokurubi, is a coffee farmer, having taken up the venture in his youth.

He has used proceeds from the cash crop to raise his children. Without it, life would have been very difficult for them.

Now in his early 70s, Mr Nyagesiba has little to rejoice about the crop. Its fortunes dwindle each passing day and his children no longer have the passion to continue having it in their farms.

But despite its meagre returns, Mr Nyagesiba is hopeful that one day, a miracle will happen and the coffee sector will boom once again.

He has 3,000 bushes in his three pieces of land. He has blended the coffee bushes with tea, just to increase his earnings. caught up with him at his farm in Getembe village on the outskirts of Kisii town. He was harvesting some of the ripe coffee berries, assisted by his son Amos.

“Even if you see me harvesting these berries, there is nothing left to rejoice in this sector. We are just trying out life, what they nowadays call hustling. We live each day at a time, it’s a dog’s life!” he says.

He explains that the benefits that were once associated with coffee farming are becoming meagre each day.

“Coffee farmers then used to live large. But they are now the paupers,” he says.

A kilo of coffee berries now goes for as little as Sh10, down from Sh55 about two years ago.

“The crop has been on a downward trajectory and if nothing is being done to revive it, it will be history here, just like pyrethrum,” he says.

He notes that most coffee societies are no longer functional.

Most assets belonging to coffee farmers were sold in unscrupulous deals and without their knowledge.

“I used to take my produce to Mobamba Coffee Society, but a few years back, I was told I could no longer trade there. So I was asked to go to another society in Bonchari. This is more than 50 kilometres from here. What profit would I get considering the high transport charges,” wonders Mr Nyagesiba.

He says nine acres of their coffee plantation at the Mobamba Coffee Society could not be accounted for.

He adds that he inherited his father’s number at Mobamba Coffee Society, but it is now worthless.

“I moved to Nyosia, which is nearer. This is where I now take my produce, but still, it is not okay,” he says.

He has called on the government to hasten reforms in the coffee sector.

“This will revive the dying sector. The government needs to rescue it before it is too late. Just like in the tea sector, we need these reforms. Cartels in the sector have killed it and they do not care how it ends,” he says.

Mr Nyagesiba is among hundreds of coffee farmers in Kisii who are pleading with the government to rescue them from poverty by implementing proposed reforms in the coffee sector.

Key in the reforms is the elimination of cartels and middlemen who have swindled farmers of their hard-earned income.

The Arabica coffee grown in Kisii county is among the best in the world, yet it is largely unknown because it is blended with other coffee varieties.

An estimated Sh650 million is needed to revive the coffee sector in Kisii County alone.

The 22 cooperative societies in the county are burdened with loans amounting to Sh250 million. With limited finances, they are unable to buy new pulping machinery.

Mr Mwancha Okioma, chairman of the board of trustees in the Commodities Fund, Kenya, says the coffee produced in Kisii can do very well in local and international markets, but opportunities remain untapped.

“We hope that with the proposed reforms, farmers from the region will have a reason to smile. We are in talks with the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya and his Interior Counterpart Fred Matiang’i to have the reforms fast-tracked,” he said.

On March 12, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued two executive orders on the reforms in the coffee and tea sub-sectors.

Executive Order No. 2 of 2021 on the Coffee Sub-Sector Reforms followed recommendations of the Presidential Task Force, and approved the transmittal of the Coffee Bill, 2021 to Parliament.

Mr Okioma says new management in the coffee societies is key if farmers are to benefit from the crop.

He notes that the reforms are expected to capture thorny issues like coffee thefts at societies in the area, adding, “We must find a way of ensuring we insure the coffee and compensate the farmers in the event it is stolen from the society.”

The reforms also seek to introduce a minimum guarantee return to the farmers to encourage them in production.