Coffee farmers say police ‘hired’ to intimidate them

By: REUBEN GITHINJI

Hundreds of farmers who pulled out of coffee cooperatives protested police harassment on Monday.

The farmers, drawn from Tharaka-Nithi, Embu, Kirinyaga and Meru counties, convened at Manyatta Shopping Centre in Embu North subcounty to protest.

They say the police make illegal arrests on the orders of cooperative officials and politicians.

They said cooperative officials are unhappy they formed self-help groups to sell their coffee.

Farmers complained they are intimidated and their property stolen “by vigilante groups formed by cooperative officials”.

Four members of one group, the Nguataniro self-help group, were arrested on Friday and their 70 bags of coffee cherries impounded.

Protestors marched to the Embu North subcounty headquarters to present a petition to the government demanding an end to illegal arrests.

Self-help group chairman Obadiah Njeru said the Coffee Act gives farmers the right to choose where and to who they sell their coffee.

He said cooperative officers have misinterpreted the act and forced them to sell their coffee through societies.

They said officials misappropriate their proceeds and “enrich themselves”.

They waved placards in Kiswahili reading “Coffee is for farmers, the market is liberalised”.

Farmers said they will sell their coffee to the Thika Coffee Mills “because it offers good money and pays us directly”.

At the subcounty headquarters, they were addressed by assistant deputy county commissioner Evans Otieno who told them their grievances will be addressed.

He said a meeting will be arranged with government officials to resolve the problem.

Otieno urged farmers to be patient.