Change isn’t always a good thing.
With a government-assembled task force looking at how the troubled Kenya coffee industry can be improved, it seems that a number of regional councils are trying to jump the gun and install changes of their own.
In what is yet another tale of conflict and intrigue, a larger number of farmers protested against a council-backed bill that would bring sweeping reforms to coffee farming with the Nyeri region of the country.
During an open forum at the St Martin De Porres Plenary Hall in Othaya, Kenya, residents and farmers showed their disdain towards proposals put forward by local council members by storming out, leaving officials debating with a nearly empty room.
“That was not participation, but a public lecture,” commented the Othaya Coffee Farmers Society’s chairperson, James Nderitu.
“Coffee is a national crop and an international commodity, it cannot be regulated by the county. As farmers, we told the task force that we want to deal with the national government and be governed only by one law.
One major point of concern for the farmer’s was the timing of this announcement by the county council. With the national task force due to report to the country’s president in the near future, many of the local bill’s proposals could be superseded or – even worse – contradicted if reform is implemented on a national scale.
In addition, farmers are of the opinion that the proposed Nyeri bill is prohibitive to the entire coffee sector.
“The bill is oppressive,” Nderitu explained, “because each clause is proposing to fine and tax us for everything, including planting and uprooting our own coffee.
“It is not criminal to own, sell or buy coffee. It makes no sense for the farmers, sellers and buyers of coffee to all pay.”
Nderitu pointed out that if coffee is sold straight to international buyers, this proposed plan of fines and levies could easily be bypassed.
Media in Kenya has reported that other regional assemblies were planning to implement similar laws. However, on the back of events in Othaya, it is believed that other farming groups will likewise protest against such measures.
Everybody will have to wait for Uhuru Kenyatta’s task force to present their findings, whether they want to not.