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An Endangered Coffee Treasure

A recent controversy in the coffee world has brought together specialty coffee roasters and importers throughout the world for a common cause. These men and women are trying to convince the Board of Kenya against their plan to blend a large portion of their coffee and market it through one sole marketing agent. Tea & Coffee Trade Journal has been implored by various members of the coffee industry to bring word of this dilemma to the rest of our community in an effort to safeguard our beloved Kenya AA’s

A flurry of emails, internet discussions and constant press coverage are crying out against the Coffee Board’s plans to allow a sole agent to circumvent the Kenya coffee auction and directly purchase a huge portion of Kenya’s production, which would effectively dismantle the auction system.

Specialty roasters and importers depend on the small farmers of Kenya for unique and exquisite coffees, the best of which is never blended. Kenya can offer pristine pure lots of extraordinary quality, lots that would lose their excellence if blended.

The Coffee Board asserts that looking for a marketing agent was part of the Board’s mandate, which declares part of the Board’s duty as the promotion of production, processing and marketing of commodity. Kenya’s farmers have been receiving little monies, and payment is often late and problematic.

Specialty roasters think that the problem of payment to the farmers lies between receipt of the monies paid by the exporters to the Board and the final distribution to farmers. They hope that the Kenyan authorities will be able to sort out this problem with the proper internal reforms, without harming Kenya’s unique auction system, and while assuring just payments to their constituents.

If the farmers are not paid fairly and above cost for the magnificent work they do, the industry will lose one of the coffee world’s treasures.

The Kenya coffee auction has been considered the best, most transparent distribution system in the coffee world. It was this auction system that inspired, and set the standard for, the Cup of Excellence auctions. The Cup of Excellence auctions, which began in Brazil, have taken hold in several other coffee-producing nations and are bringing record-breaking prices to many farmers with high quality coffees.

As one roaster stated, “Losing Kenya in coffee is like losing France in wine. [Roasters and importers] are hoping that Kenya will desist from the radical and destructive actions that are currently being proposed and that the Kenyan authorities will place their focus where it belongs - on the reform of the overburdened bureaucracy sandwiched between auction receipts and farmgate.”

We all have a responsibility not to lose our treasures. Please let your thoughts be known to the Coffee Board of Kenya and your coffee colleagues.

Jane McCabe
Editor & Co-Publisher

Tea & Coffee - October/November, 2004

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