Sunday, April 18, 2021
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How Ugandans Are Minting Millions From Kenyan Coffee

Ugandans are dubiously earning millions from Kenyan coffee. The coffee is either stolen or bought cheaply by exploiting the poor farmers, according to an investigation by the Standard News Site.

Below is the story as reported by the Standard.

It is 7.30pm on a Saturday at Bumbo market in Uganda, barely 3km from the Kenyan border at Lwakhakha.

Lorries, pickups and motorcycles have flooded the market. The passengers are sitting on huge sacks.

I quickly identify one of them, Wafula (not his real name) because we went to the same primary school. He tells me he does not use his real name. I am here to track down a coffee smuggling cartel.

Wafula introduces me to his friends and I am led to a ramshackle warehouse approximately 100 metres from the market. At the warehouse, I tell them I’m willing to join them to make quick money by identifying large-scale coffee farmers along the border from where they can steal the beans at the wee hours of the night.

It is now 8.30pm and a convoy of lorries leave for the border.

I remain behind with 10 men, including Wafula, and we follow them on motorcycles 15 minutes later. With less than a kilometre to go before the border point, we find the lorries parked strategically facing Bumbo.

The ring leader, an Arab man, signals us to stop. The gang is grouped in teams of four men, all armed with pistols, machetes and huge sacks.

The first team heads for Kwachupu, another one for Walanga and the one I’m in for Chepkube. All these are porous border points between Kenya and Uganda.

We arrive in Chepkube at around 12:20am, Sunday. Wafula calls his point man, who takes us to a rented grass-thatched house where 10 sacks of fresh coffee cherries are quickly loaded on motorbikes that speed off.

Wafula pays the point man KSh7,200 (UShs254,177) per 50kg sack of coffee cherries. The man pockets a cool Sh7,200 for one night’s work. He bought the coffee cherries at Sh80 per kilo.

Coffee cherries

Wafula says they usually take the coffee cherries to Bugishu Co-operative Union, located in Mbale town, Uganda.

“We take the coffee cherries to Bugishu Co-operative Union for pulping. When the cherries have been washed, they are milled into green coffee, which we grade according to quality and then blend with the Uganda coffee,” he says.

They then brand the finished product and export it to Brazil, Sudan, Egypt and Europe, from a warehouse in Kampala.

“We also have multi-national companies in Kampala to whom we sell the coffee in case we have a surplus,” Wafula says.

Back to the meeting point, we find the lorries have already been packed and are ready to leave to Bumbo market for pulping at Bugishu.

At this point, my source warns me not to say anything lest I face the consequences. We get to Bumbo market at 3.14am. The convoy drives on with the ring leader leading the way.

Ramshackle Warehouse

We head back to the ramshackle warehouse where we have a cup of coffee, a nap and some breakfast. Wafula says the Arab trader pays them peanuts for the job.

They sometimes turn to stealing the stock in the warehouse to make ends meet.

After breakfast, I head back to Kenya. At Lwandanyi shopping centre on the Kenyan side, some women are busy harvesting coffee.

They complain that cartels are making a killing by exporting their coffee to Uganda and paying them peanuts.

Lornah Nafula, a farmer in Korosiandet in Bungoma West, says the Ugandan cartels cross the border for coffee every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, and pay Sh43 per kilo.

Sometimes they do not pay at all. Instead, they simply steal the coffee at night, a matter that has even seen some farmers attacked while guarding their farms at night.

“Those who go through the border point give the police manning the area kickbacks. The cartels are well known to them,” she says.

Maurice Kimkung, a farmer from Kopsiro in Mt. Elgon sub-county, claims that leading business moguls in Kenya, senior police officers and politicians are involved in coffee smuggling. He says the cartels are now using middlemen to buy or steal coffee from farmers.

“Some farmers have been killed in the process of guarding their farms at night,” says Mr Kimkung.

A boda boda operator at the Lwakhakha border point who sought anonymity admitted to being paid Sh2,000 for ferrying a bag of coffee across the border. He said police at the border point cannot help to end the smuggling as they always get their share of the proceeds.

“We have cordial relationship with the police at the border and they cannot stop us from taking coffee to Uganda as long as they get a cut,” he said. Lwandanyi Coffee Farmers Co-ordinator Job Butali said they were considering uprooting their coffee if action was not taken to cushion them against the Ugandan cartels.

Cheptais Deputy County Commissioner Stephen Momanyi said the cartels colluded with officials from the coffee factories in the area to sell coffee to Uganda.

Citing Kapkateny Coffee Factory, the Government official said the racket was fuelled by leadership wrangles in local factories, which have caused many farmers to opt to sell their coffee to Ugandans.

 Farmers Suffering

“We told them to hold elections before the end of this month so that farmers do not continue to suffer,” said Mr Momanyi.

Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) Western Region coffee co-ordinator Timothy Otachi said the region had the potential to produce between 10 and 12 million kilos of coffee cherry annually, but the smuggling was killing the sector.

“Farmers are suffering and there’s need to protect them from coffee cartels,” he said. Western Regional Police Co-ordinator Moses Ombati admitted that the porous border and attractive prices offered by the cartels made it difficult to stop the illegal trade.

“Farmers are paid poorly by coffee factories. The Government should put in place measures to help coffee farmers get good returns, which will keep the Ugandan cartels at bay,” said Mr Ombati.


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