Young girls being used by cartels to smuggle coffee to Uganda
The Cheptais OCS, Hassan Godana has confirmed that cartels from Uganda are using school girls to smuggle coffee across the Kenya Uganda border.
Addressing coffee farmers at Kisongo on Tuesday, Godana warned parents to stop using their children to earn a living as they are endangering their lives.
“We have intensified patrols and we are not taking this matter lightly since Kenya is losing millions of shillings through the smuggling of coffee. This money is enough to fast track the growth of our economy,” he said.
Gondana said the racket involves point men from the vast Mt. Elgon region and Bungoma West Sub County where coffee is grown on large scale.
The point men are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring coffee reach Uganda through the porous borders without the knowledge of the police hence use of school girls to transport the precious commodity.
“The children sneak the coffee cherries to Uganda through the porous borders of Walanga, Chepkube and Lwakhakha,”Godana said adding as a camouflage the coffee cherries are packed in sacks and then covered with Sukuma wiki or Irish potatoes to fool the police.
“The girls walk in groups of between two to five and set off as early as 4.30am whereby they are dropped by the point men at Chepkube market before being picked by boda boda riders to different destinations along the border,” he said.
A 12 year old girl who sought anonymity said they take the coffee to Bumbo market in Uganda where it’s sorted and transported to Bugishu Cooperative Society in Mbale for pulping.
The Mt. Elgon Maendeleoya Wanawake chairperson, Ms. Eunice Jepchumba said majority of the school girls have now dropped out of school and have fully ventured in coffee smuggling business to earn a living.
Ms. Jepchumba said parents were the ones who give consent to the cartels to ferry the coffee to Uganda and in return they get hefty kickbacks.
Cheptais Assistant County Commissioner, James Namwamu said most farmers used the young girls to ferry coffee across the border since the Uganda cartels paid them well. “In Uganda, a Kilo of coffee fetch sh80 unlike coffee societies in Kenya that give farmers sh29 only,” Namwamu stressed.
Lwandanyi Coffee Farmers Coordinator, Job Butali said this being a coffee harvesting season in the region, the cartels and parents have hatched a scheme to engage children to avoid being arrested and prosecuted.
Butali said the point men are paid Sh.10, 000 per sack after delivering coffee to the cartels, arguing that police should intensify their operations by arresting the girls and have the parents charged with child labour.
“If police can arrest the young girls when ferrying coffee, definitely their parents will come to see them and in the process they can give information on the whereabouts of the cartels and the point men,”he said.
By Roseland Lumwamu