Over 30,000 kilos of coffee has been stolen in Kenya in 2016, with thousands of farmers affected by this growing wave of thefts according to Kenya’s Coffee Directorate.
Not only costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses, the increase threat of theft from farms could see farmers cease production almost entirely, as they are unable to secure their harvest.
This problem is not only threatening the farmers’ livelihoods, international brands could be unknowingly re-selling stolen coffee without ever knowing it.
Not street hustlers, these criminal groups have been targeting specific higher output farms, entering coffee storage warehouses late at night, where they threaten security with violence.
Those who do not comply are attacked, sometimes with harrowing results, a security guard was brutally murdered whilst trying to protect coffee stock in the Kirinyaga region.
Armed with crude weapons, the gang raided the compound in the early hours of the morning, escaping into the nearby thicket.
Local farmers are growing more concerned as there were increasing reports of these cartels were even attempting to steal coffee from the drying tables in some factories.
Once they have secured the valuable coffee, it is smuggled across the border to neighbouring Uganda, or taken to Nairobi auction houses to be sold on to distributors and roasters worldwide.
Over 600,000 people rely on coffee farming in Kenya to earn a living, many of which are small-holdings or independent, meaning they face greater financial risks than multinational owned and run farms.
Coffee shortage fears
Many farmers are turning to tea-growing to avoid the risk altogether, at present there are no reports of tea being stolen by these criminal gangs.
The very same group are saying that coffee regulations are actually working against them. Kenyan law makes it easy for cash-rich middlemen to trade coffee, but almost impossible for small-scale farmers to mill or sell their own beans directly to suppliers.
A shortage in quality Kenyan coffee would have a major effect on global coffee markets, unfortunately, these are worrying times for African coffee production.