A new market for Kenyan coffee has been established in the United States, heralding hopes to thousands of farmers as the commodity is sold directly to consumers.
Trade and Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya and local coffee roasters witnessed the launch of an auction for Kenyan coffee in the Grand Island city of Nebraska State on Tuesday.
The auction that is expected to attract hundreds of coffee roasters from across the US began the following day. It will be conducted physically and online.
The idea of starting direct sale of coffee to the US was designed by Kenyan entrepreneur Laban Njuguna.
Mr Njuguna — a Nebraska resident — founded Zabuni Speciality Coffee Auction, “which will connect Kenyan growers with roasters in America.
“Our mission is to provide a platform in which farmers and roasters connect. Roasters should have efficient access to high quality coffee while farmers act as their own brand ambassadors and receive better pay,” Mr Njuguna says in his company’s website.
The entrepreneur said he has been working on the project for the past two years after being touched by the plight of Kenya coffee producers.
His 104-year-old grandmother Joyce Waithaka — a resident of Kiaguthu village in Othaya, Nyeri County — is among the many Kenyans who have been struggling to make a living from coffee farming for decades.
Before selling the concept to Kenyan authorities, Mr Njuguna approached Grand Island Economic Development Corporation (GIAEDC) — an agency that promotes new businesses as well as assisting in the expansion of established ones.
GIAEDC’s president Dave Tylor was impressed with the idea, which he said would also improve the economy of the island and create many jobs.
Jointly with the agency, Mr Njuguna first hosted a group of Kenyan businesspeople and farmers in April 2018 before leading a delegation to Kenya in August.
They were to hold talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta but instead met his deputy, Mr William Ruto, and other senior government officials before touring coffee farms and wet mills in several parts of the country. The government embraced the concept and partnered with Zabuni Speciality Coffee Auction.
Kenya produces premium Arabica coffee beans that are highly sought around the world. But small-scale farmers, who produce most of the coffee, have remained poor.
The grim situation has been blamed on farmers selling their produce through brokers.
It is multinationals that benefit from the coffee as they buy the beans in raw form, which they roast to blend with low quality coffee.
Last week, Mr Munya announced during an investment forum in Thika that Kenya is doing all it can to use the new US market to improve farmers’ plight.
“We are going to witness direct sale of coffee from this region in Nebraska. We want to see how we can start selling our coffee directly to the US and not through the Nairobi Coffee Exchange,” the CS told a gathering at Thika Technical Training Institute. A task force was formed by Mr Kenyatta to come up with ways of turning around the coffee industry.
One of its recommendations is to establish direct sales. When the auction was being launched on Tuesday, Mr Munya was accompanied by senators Njeru Ndwiga (Embu) and Kindiki Kithure (Tharaka-Nithi).
Githunguri MP Gabriel Kago and a number of officials from the national and several county governments were also in the delegation.
It was announced that 80 bags of clean coffee from smallholder farmers in Kenya had been shipped to the US and stored at Zabuni Warehouse for the auction. The Nation established that the green coffee had been bought from farmers in different parts of the country.
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