Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Coffee Farmers

Today's blog is about the coffee farmers. I will not talk about their working conditions, i will not talk about their poverty, their plight, the problems facing them, i will not talk about their exploitation or why they striked, i will simply talk about my people; because that is what they are.

A few days ago, someone sent me an email with simply one line ''Warum machen Sie sowas?'' (why are you doing this?). To someone like me who grew up in an English speaking country, this might sound outright rude. I kept thinking for days, had i misunderstood his question? or was it just the german bluntness? ;) and he had no ill motives behind his one lined question?
To answer his question i decided to write this article, less i misunderstood / misjudged his question and not only for him but for all the ''coffee people'' out there.

First, it’s important to realize that coffee is a globally traded commodity just like oil. Actually, coffee is the second-most traded commodity with oil being the first. However, for many of the world’s 25 million coffee farmers, coffee is a labour intensive crop that frequently yields very little financial return. 
To fully understand how the pricing of coffee works, one needs to know the Coffee Price Economics.What variables drive up and down the coffee prices?- this is where my Macroeconomics text book written by Japheth Osotsi Awiti from the School of Economics at the UON comes in handy! Anyway today is not the day for coffee economics lessons.- for that class i would need you guys packed and ready with your big mugs of caffein-laden concotions.
But because i understand these variables, and some of them are speculations or 'unexpected factors' (this is where the Key to everything lies), thats why i do what i do.....

Back to my people; Anyone who is my age or plus or minus 10, and comes from a coffee growing community grew up picking coffee. It was all we did, if we wasnt busy slidding on the muddy gullies of River Chania, or planning our next excursion to the nieghbour's Quava and Mango farms.
We picked the cherries come rain or sunshine! we qued for endless hours at the delivery stations or at the mills, to have our black gold weighed and graded after hours of back-aching hand sorting process. But we waited and endured because we knew that the coffee despite all the struggles we had, somehow paid for our school fees ( even if it meant being sent home for half of the term), it put meals on our tables- even if it was the traditional ration of 96% dry maize and 4 % beans with the Muhika leaves that grew wildly and our mothers picked on the coffee fields-at the same time picking coffee.

And then, we grew up...and most of us left for the big City, armed with hope and determination to change the poverty situation among our families back in the village, and we left our parents and the rest of the siblings picking coffee......

So many things have changed since me and my agemates grew up ...the Republic of Kenya got a new constitution, and powers were devolved to county levels which saw a lot of rapid and in some cases misguided changes in the coffee sector, but what happened to the coffee farmers?...

my father planting new coffee seedlings in march 2013

Many of them grew old and could not continue tending their coffee farms, many of them felled down their coffee trees and simply continued with subsistence farming of maize and beans, many of their children dropped from school for lack of school fees, and me and my agemates who were lucky enough to leave the villages left and some of us swore never to step our feet back to those god forsaken coffee fields! and those who remained had no hope of ever coming out....and some of them held on hope that one day all will be fine, they continued toiling on the coffee fields from dawn to dusk... .thats is what happened to the coffee farmers and their families.

And you ask why i do what i do? i do it because i know only too well the challenges faced by these communities, i do it because we are not a charity organisation walking around in Europe with photos of poor african children with mucus running down their noses to beg for your hard earned money!, i do it because i believe the economic sustainability of the coffee producers begins when they are given the business tools and knowledge resources to make a livable income, i do it because with this journey i will secure the future of my village for generations to come.......

And to the Importers and Roasters who somehow found it in their hearts to boycott buying the coffee of my people this season simply because it was not going through their favourite Exporter, i want you to remember my coffee farmers, i want you to simply forget the politics involved ..i want you to have those farmers in mind when you make your decisions...let those farmers THRIVE.......

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