County bosses on the spot as new coffee rules take effect

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Devolved governments will be under scrutiny following the coming into effect of new coffee rules which give them more control of the ailing industry.

In the 2019 Crops (Coffee) (General) Regulations, the county governments assume most of the roles previously undertaken by the Agriculture Food Authority (AFA), including issuing of milling and marketing permits.

It has taken more than three years to work on the rules whose purpose is to resuscitate coffee farming by increasing production and streamlining the market.

Coffee production in Kenya has registered poor growth compared with other countries in east and central Africa.

That is what prompted President Uhuru Kenyatta to form a task force that developed the regulations in 2016.

However, questions on whether the devolved units would be up to the task have been raised during meetings called to discuss the rules.

Stakeholders argued that functions like issuing of licences should be left to the regulator.

It now means the county governments will license processors and co-operatives that mill and market coffee on behalf of their members.

They will also be responsible for authorising warehousing.

A company wishing to roast, grind and package coffee for local sales, would have to be licensed by the county government of the area the produce is sourced.

According to Mr Paul Muhoro, a Nyeri-based coffee expert, farmers lack capacity, experience and information on international markets that would make them conduct business at the Nairobi auction.
“Regulations are important but we need systems to improve the management of the societies,” Mr Muhoro said.

“Separation of powers between the two levels of government gives farmers a clear picture of the roles of the devolved function and AFA. They know who to go to when they need the licences.”

The same counties, according to the regulations published in a special issue of the July 1 Kenya Gazette, would be responsible for approving pulping station permits and issuing coffee nursery and movement permits.

Payment will be deposited into co-operative accounts through the Direct Settlement System from the Nairobi Coffee Exchange and then remitted to farmers after deductions.

In this system, money will be deposited to farmers after paying the marketer and millers’ fee as opposed to paying them through the marketers who bid their coffee at the auction.

Contacted, Ndaroini Coffee Growers’ chairman Joseph Mukuha said using the DSS to pay farmers is inconsiderate.

“There are no cut-out guidelines on who will be running the system. Whom will we complain to in case of a problem?” Mr Mukuha asked.

According to Mutheka Coffee Society chairman Githae Hunyo, the success of the regulations depends on their implementation and how quickly farmers appreciate the reforms.

“It is a legal document and is complex for farmers but let us wait and see,” he said.

While the farmers will be paid within five days after marketers receive money for sale of their produce at the auction, many growers feel the system does not favour them.

Mr Githae said the system will address the “misconception” that managers embezzle farmers’ money.

“Auditing will be easy,” Mr Githae said, adding that the new payment mode will enhance traceability.

Governors in 31 coffee growing counties met early in the year to discuss the regulations and wrote a memorandum to Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri complaining about being left out.

The Coffee Sector Implementation Committee, which had been working on the draft developed by the task force, had to adjust it to include proposals by county bosses as ordered by Mr Kiunjuri.

The decision to have counties take over most of the roles of AFA has also been criticised.

A senior manager at AFA told the Sunday Nation: “We want to know what will happen to a Nairobi-based miller that has a contract with farmers in Kisii, Embu or Nyeri. Will it secure milling licences from the three counties?” he asked.

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