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Frustrated Kenya Farmers Cut Down Coffee Trees Citing Poor Returns

Angry farmers in Meru County in Kenya have hired power saw operators to cut down their coffee trees, claiming they had been frustrated to the limit, even as the government steps up efforts to revive the cash crop, Daily Nation reports.

The farmers earned KSh28 (UShs 1,020)a kilo for the main crop in December, with some of them going home with less than KSh1,000 (UShs36,462) after deductions.

Meru County introduced a cash for cherry model funded by the Cooperative Bank in July this year where farmers are paid KSh20 per kilo of delivered beans, which is deducted when they receive their final payout.

With low volumes of the produce, farmers who harvested less than 1,000 kilos were shocked to learn that their produce earned them very little money, leading to frustration.

FRUSTRATED

Ms Jane Murithi, a farmer in Nkubu who supplies her produce to Kathera coffee factory, said she had decided to clear her 300 bushes after she earned KSh540 (UShs 19,670) only.

She joins a growing number of farmers in Central and South Imenti who have decided to replace their coffee with avocado and macadamia trees citing years of frustration.

“I was paid Sh11,000 advance for 550 kilos and, when all the other deductions were made, I was left with Sh540. The advance was not even enough to buy fertiliser and meet my personal needs. With this kind of misery, I no longer need the crop in my farm. I would rather plant maize or napier grass for my cows,” she said in an interview at her farm.

According to David Kiruja, who owns a power saw, many farmers are opting to cut down their coffee trees and replace them with other crops.

“I charge Sh600 per litre of fuel I use and per day I am making up to Sh6,000 which is good money. So many farmers have hired my machine and I have no time to rest,” he said.

STAYING PUT

However, some two kilometers from Ms Murithi’s farm is Mr Joseph Mutwiri, 67, who says he will not cut down his 600 trees from which he harvested 3,400 kilos. He was paid Sh68,000 advance and KSh17,500 final payout which he said was “not bad.”

“I have been growing coffee for over 30 years and I know I will soon start reaping big from the crop,” he said at his farm with well-tended bushes. His son Isaiah Kimathi, 42, also said although he was disappointed with the pay, he would not cut down his 200 bushes.

The farmers’ action comes even as the government steps up efforts to revive the sector. Last week, the Cabinet approved appointment of a New Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (KPCU) board following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive that the defunct farmers’ union should be revived.

The Cabinet also approved implementation of the KSh3 billion cherry advance fund to hasten revival efforts of the sector.

But with low production, farmers are apprehensive that they will continue earning little money.

REVIVING SECTOR

Speaking in a telephone interview yesterday, the coffee Task Force implementation committee chairman, Prof Joseph Kieyah, said the regulations that will guide disbursement of the Sh3 billion fund will be ready any time now.

“We are considering all options but, since this is a revolving fund, we want to be careful not to mess with the mode of paying farmers because they are the ones targeted in the revival of the sector,” he said.

He also said some of the proposals they were working on in an effort to revive the sector include county governments being allocated money to subsidise farm inputs and seedlings in a three-year programme.

To ensure coffee produced in the country adheres to the national and international quality standards, the committee has also proposed the government establishes a coffee quality regulatory framework and a coffee traceability system.

The government intends to increase coffee production from the current 44,000MT to over 50,000MT in the next three years by subsidising farm inputs as well as promoting sustainable extension services.

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