Coffee farmers in Tharaka-Nithi County are now demanding direct payments of their proceeds to their accounts from the New Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (KPCU).
The farmers want New KPCU, which mills and markets their coffee, to determine payment rates and process payments directly to their accounts and not through their cooperative society.
The New KPCU was incorporated to eradicate middlemen and fetch maximum proceeds after cooperative societies had exploited farmers for years due to massive corruption and theft by management.
On Thursday, August 18, 2022, Mitheru Society Coffee Farmers raised their grievances to the New KPCU officials and Society Board Officials in a meeting held at Mitheru, citing their dissatisfaction with the manner in which the society was in handling their payments.
According to the farmers, the society secretary would receive a cheque from New KPCU after coffee sales, and thereafter deposit it to Southern Star Sacco to process payments for farmers.
'Illegal' deductions from coffee farmer's earnings
The farmers accused the Sacco of making illegal deductions from their payments, prompting them to revolt against the society.
Virginia Kiraithe, a coffee farmer noted that New KPCU had restored hope in coffee farmers in the region, with the troubled history of the old KPCU and its inability to deliver to coffee farmers leading most of them to quit coffee farming.
"The society is not transparent. With the entry of the New KPCU, farmers can now receive better payments in an effective and improved manner. We trust New KPCU can deliver changes to the hundreds of farmers that depend on coffee to earn a living," she said.
The farmers also raised concerns about the 20 per cent deductions by the society used to cater for factory expenses such as renovations and paying workers.
In their protests, the farmers insisted that the government had provided subsidies for the same and that the cut should be lowered to 5 per cent.
Most of the farmers interviewed shared the opinion that the deductions should be made by New KPCU when processing their payments unlike before when the society would make the deductions.
Concerns were also raised over the Ksh2000 paid by each farmer in shares to the society in 2012 with the aim of aiding the provision of farm inputs to the farmers.
According to Gabriel Muchiri, New KPCU did not require shares to provide inputs to farmers, noting that efforts to have the money refunded by the society had failed to materialize.
"We have never benefited from the Ksh2000 shares nor received our money back. Since the New KPCU does not require shares to provide and supply inputs we demand our money back. We were promised a refund last year but we have received nothing so far," Muchiri lamented.
The farmers, who are yet to receive any payment in form of share refunds, have vowed to go to court if the matter is not resolved by the end of the next month.
During its launch, the New KPCU was mandated by the Cabinet to administer the Coffee Cherry Revolving Fund. The cabinet approved the utilization of a small portion of the fund to settle debts owed to banks and coffee farmers.
Rumors circulating that members from two factories would receive a cut in their payments to compensate farmers whose coffee was stolen in one of the factories from the society were also addressed in the meeting.
Earlier in the year, thugs broke into Njaina Coffee Factory and stole their produce, and rumours had circulated that Iriani and Gachikeru Coffee Farmers would be subjected to a pay cut to compensate their counterparts from Njaina.