Old colonial laws hindering coffee growth in Kenya

Coffee production in Kenya has drastically dropped by above 60 percent in the last fifty years. The drop is blamed on archaic laws introduced at the colonial time and currently still in operation.

Kenya planters Cooperative Union (KPCU), the body overseeing coffee production in Kenya says in 1960’s the largest East Africa country and one of the main coffee exporters in Africa has seen the level of production dwindle from 150,000 metric tonnes to 40,000 metric tonnes.

‘’ Coffee is still a regulated plant here in the country. There are still very few farmers growing coffee since for you to take up this farming, you need to register with the Central government and get certified.’’ Mr. Joseph Kioko the Managing Director of KPCU explains.

Though amendments have been effected on some of the rules governing coffee Acts in 2002 and 2006, coffee farmers are still required to be certified, regulated and sell their produce to a marketing agent in an auction.

‘’ Some of the farmers we have do not get value of their produce. They are forced to sell to a marketing agency because they can not afford to participate directly in the auction. Getting certified and being locked from direct selling of coffee are part of colonial rules we want changed. These rules which were imposed are still being applied up to now.’’ Adds Mr. Kioko.

Coffee Board of Kenya established at the colonial time in 1934 after the enactment of the coffee industry ordinance in 1933 is still in operation.

The coffee Board still carries out registration and licensing of coffee nurseries, growers, pulping stations, millers, marketing agents, management agents, buyers, roasters, packers, warehousemen and auctioneers to ensure adherence to standards.

‘’ several farmers would wish to grow coffee but they are hindered by these rules.’’ Says Mr. Kioko.

Coffee Marketing and Promotion
Currently, there are two coffee marketing systems in Kenya. The time tested central auction system has coffee auctions conducted every Tuesday of the week throughout the year. This is a market where coffee is bought by the licensed coffee dealers through competitive bidding.

The Direct Sale, commonly referred to as “Second Window” requires that a marketing Agent directly negotiate with a buyer outside the country and a sales contract is duly signed and registered with the Board. The Board ratifies the contract after carrying out an inspection and analyzing the coffee for quality and value as per the contract.

Colonial period
Under the European powers of the eighteenth century, coffee was intimately embedded in colonialism and slavery. The eighteenth century was the height of the slave trade between Africa and the New World, and slaves were forced to cultivate coffee on plantations throughout the Caribbean and parts of Latin America alongside other cash crops like sugar.

However, while coffee cultivation spread rapidly in the late eighteenth century, supplying coffee-drinkers in Europe and the United States, it still remained something of a luxury item.

However African farmers had restrictions in the growing of coffee. Some of the restrictions were in form of introducing quotas and auction markets. They are still applying in Kenya.

Challenges of coffee farming in Africa

Kenya like many African nations has also experienced myriad of challenges apart from colonial rules.

Some farmers have threatened to quit the business due to poor and delayed dues.

Other challenges include corruption, mismanagement of the coffee sector and low prices.

Coffee is Kenya’s fourth leading foreign exchange earner after tourism, tea and horticulture.

It grows both Arabica and Robusta types of coffee.

However during the El Nino period, Arabica coffee posted the largest decline among 22 raw materials in the Bloomberg Commodity Index, dropping 24% in 2014/2015; Robusta coffee similarly fell 16% due to El Nino rains.

It means that African coffee producers – such as Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania were hit by even lower revenues from their coffee exports.

Funguses such as Coffee Berry Disease became rampant because of excess rain.

Africa’s contribution
The continent accounts for about 12% of the world’s production. Kenya is at 5percent according to Bloomberg findings.

The KPCU Managing director expects a significant increase in production of coffee if the archaic rules of the colonial era are completely overhauled.

On Friday march 4, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta through a gazette notice appointed a national taskforce to offer solutions to the ailing sector.

The taskforce is expected to examine existing rules and identify areas of intervention in a period of 24days.


– Wamoyi. M.M., AfricanQuarters Kenya

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