By Moses Njagih and agencies
Angry farmers from a coffee factory in Nyeri District have blasted officials of the Starbucks Coffee Company for refusing to respond to their questions on a project the multinational is undertaking in the area.
The American coffee retailer is involved in the Kenya Heartland Coffee project, to help farmers to improve the quality of their crop.
But during a visit by Starbuck officials, irate farmers of Kihuyo Coffee Factory accused Mr James Donald, the company’s president, of using them to rake in billions in profits. The American official had tough meetings with Ethiopian coffee growers earlier in the week.
Kihuyo and Kiamariga factories in Mathira division are involved in the Heartland project.
"Starbucks interests are only in making profits from our coffee, and yet they are not even mindful about our welfare," asked Mr John Kabira, a farmer.
Donald was accompanied by company’s Managing Director, Mr Alain Poncelet, and two senior vice presidents: Mr Dub Hays (procurements) and Ms Sandra Taylor, who is in charge of social corporate responsibilities.
He also refused to speak to the press on the project, in which his company is partnering with African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).
Starbucks officials are in the country to inspect the progress of the project that aims at helping farmers improve on their production and quality of coffee.
Another farmer Mrs Mary Wanjiku, said that besides the project, the multi-billion company that controls thousands of coffee shops in the world should have considered advancing them loans to help improve on the quality.
"We did not come here just to instal him (Donald) as a Kikuyu elder. He should have given us a chance to ask him questions on the benefits of the project. His refusal to do so makes the whole thing suspect," complained Kabira.
Meanwhile, heavy rains in Kenya’s main Nyeri coffee farming highlands have forced peasant farmers to deal with speedier ripening of berries, officials said on Friday.
"Normally the main picking season starts in mid-October when the rains comes and ends in mid January," the Coffee Board of Kenya (CBK) area manager, Mr Richard Wahome told Reuters.
"But this time there was a lot of rain that made the berries to ripen almost at the same time."
The need to quickly pick ripe berries and to avoid damage due to the rains means farmers are struggling to find enough labourers to work their farms.