- Mr Ngumo accused the Coffee factory managers and committee of employing incompetent watchmen and failing to liaise with police especially when coffee beans are dry and ready for sale.
- “Rampant coffee theft started in 2019 in this region and since I came in January this year three factories have been raided. I may not be able to speak on what happened before I came to this region, but I know what it means to farmers to lose their coffee because I am a farmer too. We must mitigate coffee theft. We need to ask ourselves what kind of people we have employed to protect our coffee. Do they have qualities? Who are the managers tasked to lead our factories? We should know if they are trustworthy people,” Ngumo said.
Coffee theft in Meru County has left small-scale farmers grappling with poverty from losses running into millions of shillings, but the attacks could soon be a thing of the past, says Meru County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo.
Speaking on Wednesday during a meeting attended by Chairpersons from various Coffee Societies and coffee factory leaders in Meru, Ngumo noted that three factories have lost 364 coffee bags worth Sh 5.8 to theft this year.
These are the Kieru factory which lost 234 coffee bags worth Sh. 3.1 M, Tigania Factory where robbers stole 80 coffee bags worth Sh. 2M and Kiambogo factory which lost 50 bags worth Sh 700,000.
Mr Ngumo accused the Coffee factory managers and committee of employing incompetent watchmen and failing to liaise with police, especially when coffee beans are dry and ready for sale.
“Rampant coffee theft started in 2019 in this region and since I came in January this year three factories have been raided. I may not be able to speak on what happened before I came to this region, but I know what it means to farmers to lose their coffee because I am a farmer too. We must mitigate coffee theft. We need to ask ourselves what kind of people we have employed to protect our coffee. Do they have qualities? Who are the managers tasked to lead our factories? We should know if they are trustworthy people,” Ngumo said.
The no-nonsense commissioner authorized Deputy County Commissioners to vet all coffee factory Managers and watchmen serving in various factories in the County.
“All managers have to give their personal information including Identity card and area of residence to the Deputy Commissioners in their respective areas. If any of them fails to do so, that means he or she is an untrustworthy person,” Mr Ngumo said.
Ngumo cautioned coffee factories against storing large quantities of coffee beans for a long period when ready for sale.
“Why will a coffee manager store grade one coffee for three months in a factory when everybody is seeking for grade one? You are going to answer that question,” Ngumo said.
The Commissioner demanded coffee managers to inform the Officer in Charge of Station (OCS) whenever a factory has a large quantity of coffee beans awaiting to be sold.
According to Ngumo, informing the OCS will enable securing of the coffee and will also hold the officer in charge accountable if the coffee is stolen.
“Inform the OCS in writing so that if the coffee is stolen, the officer will be answerable. Coffee managers must liaise with police to protect farmers’ produce,” Mr Ngumo told the coffee managers.
The Commissioner warned that factory managers would be held responsible if they fail to inform police of coffee bags stored and the coffee is stolen in their factories.
Mr Ngumo also called on the managers to ensure coffee factories are well protected through employing capable watchmen, erecting security fences, installing CCTV and Security lights among other security measures.
The Commissioner asked residents to use the government security toll-free information number ‘988’ to send Short alert messages when they notice anything suspicious happening in the factories.
“Let us use ‘Mulika Ugaindi’ toll-free number to SMS when we notice anything suspicious in the factories, especially during the night when robbers break in. Always ensure you start your message with the Name of the County, followed by the name of the Factory and then your brief message describing the act,” Ngumo said.
Meru County Commander Nyaga Muchungu called on coffee farmers to ensure people representing them as leaders are reliable and honest.
Muchungu asked the coffee manager to ensure people protecting the factories as watchmen are capable and skilled.
Meru County Cooperatives Director Mugambi Sandi noted that coffee factories have also been losing land to grabbers.
“Societies should ensure the titles are safe. Those without titles should apply for one to mitigate land grabbing,” Mugambi said.
The cooperative’s director also called on Societies to focus on development and avoid being affiliated to politics.
“Societies are investment entities, but not political entities. Let’s do business and put aside our political affiliations,” he said.
Meru Central Coffee Union Chairperson Ephantus Majau called on farmers to unite and ensure that their factories are safe.
Majau also asked coffee managers to ensure farmers and the OCS are aware when the coffee is in store as a way to curb theft.
“Let us all work together and protect our coffee. We must cut down coffee theft,” Majau said.
Additionally, Meru Central Coffee Union CEO Fredrick Mburugu asked farmers to resume coffee farming, saying that most farmers had shifted from coffee farming in fear of losses.
“It is time we go back to serious coffee farming. Some years back, other Counties would come to benchmark coffee farming in Meru. We have a coffee market, and we have been assured of security, so people should go back to farming,” Mburugu said.
Farmers who spoke raised alarm of increased coffee theft, claiming that robbers are also stealing coffee from their farms and factory drying beds.
The farmers called on police officers to patrol the factories in the night to curb coffee theft, accusing police of slow response when alerted of theft.
John Mugiira, a farmer, called on Meru County coffee factories to involve the community surrounding the factories in protecting the coffee.
“We need to borrow Kirinyaga’s idea of protecting the factory where the community living nearby is involved and awarded regularly to help farmers in protecting the factories,” Mugiira said.
Meru County has 144 coffee factories. The County also has 47 SACCO societies under the Meru Coffee Co-operative Union, with a membership of over 80,000 farmers.
Coffee growing in Meru is dictated by the climatic conditions throughout the year, which has two rainy seasons. The other factor which contributes to coffee growing in Meru County is the volcanic soils of the high latitude regions which are found in the slopes of Mount Kenya and the Nyambene ranges.
The major coffee harvesting period in Meru County starts from early May and continues throughout June and at times going up to early July.
Central Imenti, areas like Katheri and Githongo are among other regions that grow a lot of coffee followed by South Imenti, areas like lower Chule and Kithangari and North Imenti, areas like Ntakira, Nyaki, Ntima and Nkabune among many other areas.
After harvesting, the coffee is delivered by farmers to coffee factories managed under farmers coffee co-operative societies which are spread out through the county.
At the factories, it is processed through various processes, dried and then packed in gunny bags before it is delivered for further processing to various mills within the County or outside the County.
However, in the recent past farmers have been losing coffee to theft where robbers have been breaking in factories raiding coffee worth millions before it is taken to the mills for processing.
It is yet to be seen if the new rules set by the Meru Security agencies through the new County Commissioner will save farmers from losing their coffee to robbers.