The much-awaited reforms in the coffee sector spearheaded by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua have run into trouble after Starbucks, the US mega-chain, decided not to buy its coffee directly from Kenyan farmers.
This is a big setback for the deputy president and the Kenyan coffee farmer who has been pushing for direct coffee sales to the international market.
In October Gachagua announced that he had initiated talks between Kenya, American ambassador Meg Whitman and Starbucks aimed at cutting off brokers who have fleeced Kenyan coffee farmers for decades.
“The people who buy our coffee are not Americans it is bought by people in Europe. And even there is one country that sells the most coffee in the world yet they have no single coffee plant. They are just brokers now we want to remove them.”
Reliable sources have however informed us that Starbucks says it does not have the capacity to source for coffee directly from farmers.
Additionally, Starbucks has told the Kenyan government that purchasing coffee directly from farmers would make it difficult for them to comply with an American law that requires all companies dealing with food to have the ability to trace it to the source in case there is a problem.
Starbucks uses about four million coffee beans a day which translates to 1.4 billion coffee beans a year. The American mega food chain has over 24,000 stores in 70 countries and they serve around 60 million customers a day.
The mega food chain however sources for its coffee through third parties who purchase the bean from farmers across the world on its behalf.
In Kenya the food chain has contracted Neuman Kaffee (NKG) and the Rain Forest Alliance to source for its coffee and make sure the beans match its high standards.
The company had previously contracted James Finlay to source for its Kenyan coffee but tore the contract in February last year after the British multinational got caught up in a sex scandal.
NKG does not own even a single coffee tree but exports two thirds of all the coffee beans exported from Kenya.
Kenya exports coffee worth USD 250 million per year making it the 25th largest exporter of the bean in the world.
Most of the coffee is however sold by a cartel of six European multinationals like German NKG, ED&F and C Dorman, both from the United Kingdom.
Others are Kenyacof owned by Sucafina of Geneva, Switzerland, Engelhart Commodities of London and Luxembourg’s Louis Dreyfus.
Combined, the six firms are among the biggest dealers in cereals and other dry foodstuff globally, with annual turnovers in excess of Sh5 trillion.
Gachagua has been trying to loose the grip by this six European multinationals on the Kenyan farmers but it appears that they are fighting back.
“Hiyo vita ya kahawa inataka chuma ya zamani, hii watu ni ngumu kama Gikwa. Those fellows wamenyonya wakulima for a very long time. And I am telling you, nobody would have done these reforms outside the presidency and that is why President William Ruto directed me to do it,” said the DP yesterday.
“Hawa watu wako na nguvu na pesa mingi sana. They corrupt everybody in whole chain, it’s only at the presidency they cannot corrupt anybody, na pia sisi tuko na usalama ya kutosha.”
Reforms in the tea and coffee sectors is one of the major pledges made by the Kenya Kwanza government.