Growing coffee for 20 years has not lifted 60-year-old Maina Kimondo from poverty.

So fine talk of a new marketing system that could boost earnings fails to raise a spark in his eye.

Despite putting in many hours daily to tend his 100 coffee trees, meager pay has condemned the old man to wearing a shirt with a threadbare collar and patched trousers.

In years past, he and farmers in his village say they have received very little money, or none at all, for coffee sold through a central auction in the capital Nairobi.

Once they were told that their coffee had been stolen and on another occasion, that it had sunk with a ship en route to buyers overseas. Both times, there was no payment.

But in a move to improve their lot, Kenya has published rules to govern direct sales between farmers and overseas buyers. The change is intended to put more money into farmers' pockets by cutting out a long string of middlemen.

Many farmers, however, are ignorant of what the new marketing system portends for them, and those who have an inkling are skeptical.

I will only believe it when I see the money, Kimondo told Reuters while tending coffee trees laden with unripe berries near Mount Kenya, on a chilly, rainy day.

This is a stupid job, he said. You don't know how much your coffee was sold for, you don't know what exchange rate they used at the bank. You are powerless once you hand over your coffee at the factory.

Officials have said good rains over March-May could boost output in the main coffee growing region around Mount Kenya after a drought earlier this year, but farmers say cold spells are stunting growth and could affect harvests later this year.


For seven decades, all Kenyan coffee has been sold through a central auction. Although most of it fetches premiums at the weekly sales, many farmers receive a pittance, as fees and debt payments cut into their earnings.

Like most coffee farmers, Kimondo has little to show for producing top-notch coffee for two decades.

He only has an acre of land. On it, he has crammed 100 coffee bushes, patches of snow peas, kale, French beans, bananas, cabbages for sale and grass for his cow.

Farmers in his village, which produces some of the best coffee in the country, received 32 shillings ($0.44) per kg of cherry produced in the previous season.

These prices were good when compared to other areas in the district that received 21 shillings per kg. But, thanks to improved global prices, even that was good money compared to prices as low as five shillings a few years back.

Top Kenyan coffees fetch more than $200 per 50 kg bag at the auction.

Under the new system, farmers can bypass the auction to sell more directly to roasters abroad, but must still use the services of a marketing agent. These agents cannot be licensed without proof that they have access to overseas markets. They must also provide a bank guarantee to protect farmers' money.

The old auction will still be held as usual in case any farmers choose to stick with it.

We will use whatever system works best for us, said Moses Nderitu, chairman of the Giakanja Farmers Cooperative Society.

Unlike many cooperative groups in the district, Giakanja already has a copy of the rules governing the structure.


But Nderitu admits that most of the 1,400 farmers in his society have no clue what the direct sales entail. We don't have the knowledge to explain it to them but before we sell their coffee, we will get experts to explain, he said.

Most Kenyan coffee farmers, poor and uninformed, are usually the last in getting the proceeds of the coffee sold. Many are semi-literate, making them easy prey for unscrupulous agents.

Although debate over the new, so-called second window marketing system has raged for a while in coffee circles and newspaper commentaries, many farmers have only a distant idea that it could earn them more.

For coffee farmer Albert Mugo, growing the cash crop is a necessary evil. The earnings are too little to sustain his family, but he has few alternatives.