By Tony Wafula
Plans to revive coffee farming in Bungoma County have started paying off after farmers made profits of at least Sh1billion for the first time after 20 years of dry spell.
The farmers after counting losses due coffee theft from smugglers who used to sell in Uganda and unfavorable prices at the Kenyan market, majority of the farmers had uprooted their coffee plantations and ventured in maize and tomato farming.
Three years ago, Governor Wycliffe Wangamati’s administration launched a campaign to encourage farmers back to coffee farming and even gave them farm inputs like fertiliser and seedlings and the move is now paying off.
The Governor also put up two coffee milling factories where the county is producing its own branded coffee.
“Bungoma is now earning a staggering Sh1 billion annually from coffee farming shared between 52 coffee cooperative societies that we revived three years ago. The county is now able to produce between 10-20million kilos of coffee cherries from over 7550 acres under coffee production,” said Governor Wycliffe Wangamati in an interview yesterday.
The county has is further continuing with the recruitment of farmers who had abandoned coffee farming and ones recruited, a farmer gets free coffee seedlings and fertiliser as a way of encouraging them to venture in coffee farming for commercial purposes.
“Already, the County has helped form 304 new coffee co-operative societies comprising of 63,847 farmers and distributed over 3 million coffee seeds and seedlings. The county has introduced Robusta coffee variety for the first time and we gave farmers in Bumula Sub County as its soils are favourable,” said Wangamati.
With two mills in place, the Bungoma Cooperative Union Coffee Mill at Musese area in Kabuchai constituency and Mt Elgon Cooperative Union Mill at Chesikaki in Cheptais complete with weighbridges and warehouses in what is designed to cut the costs of transporting raw beans to Thika for processing
Governor Wangamati avers that they move will assist farmers reduce transport costs to Nairobi for milling while at the same time getting better returns for their produce, adding that the county is now producing branded coffee, which will be hitting the market as from next month.
“For the first time, Bungoma coffee will be milled in Bungoma, stored in Bungoma and sold directly from Bungoma. The County has also earmarked to build more coffee factories and pulping centres in Bumula, Kanduyi, Webuye large as well as Tongaren,” said Wangamati.
“To complete the value chain, the county has made contacts with some of the best coffee buyers in the US and Australia and continues to explore opportunities in other markets. For now we shall be exporting our branded coffee direct to US and Australia,” Wangamati added.
Coffee farmers will save Sh.42 million on transport alone as one bag of coffee cherries costs Sh350 to transport to the capital city for milling as a result farmers made losses or got very little returns. This made many quit coffee growing for sugarcane, tomato, and tobacco farming.
With coffee production taking shape in Bungoma, it is a plus for the country, as the move will increase the volumes of coffee being taken for auctioning at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange that is currently on the decline.