Coffee Farming in Kenya

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Coffee is Kenya’s fourth leading foreign exchange earner after tourism, tea and horticulture. The Kenyan brand is known for its flavor and pleasant aroma. It is estimated that in Kenya 160,000 hectares are under coffee, 75.5 per cent of which is in the co-operative sub-sector and 24.5 per cent in the estates.

The species grown are Arabica and Robusta is grown mainly by small scale farmers in the following areas:

  1. Central Province — Nyeri, Murang’a, Kiambu, Thika, Kirinyaga.
  2. Eastern Province — High areas of Meru Central, Embu, Machakos, Tharaka and  Makueni.
  3. Coast Province — Taita Taveta (Wundanyi area).
  4. Western Province —— Bungoma,Vihiga, Kakamega.
  5. Nyanza Province — Kisii, Nyamira, Nyabondo Plateau in Nyando District and Oyugis in Rachuonyo District.

Geographical Conditions that Favor Coffee Growing in Kenya

Kenya is the leading producer of Arabica coffee in Africa. The following conditions favor its production in the country:

  1. Temperature –  Coffee does well under temperatures of 14 to 26°C although Arabica coffee can tolerate temperatures of up to 30°C. In Kenya the coffee growing areas experience cool to hot climate ideal for coffee growing. The temperatures average 15°— 30°C.
  2. Rainfall – Arabica coffee requires rainfall ranging between 1000 and 2 000 mm per annum. Many coffee growing areas in Kenya receive high rainfall of about 1000 — 2000 mm which is well distributed.
  3. Soils – Most of the growing areas in Kenya have fertile deep volcanic soils which are suitable for coffee. The soils are well drained and are acidic with a pH of between 5.3 and 6.0.
  4. Topography – The coffee growing areas have undulating landscape with hill slopes and gentle slopes. This has ensured well drained and aerated soils.
  5. Altitude – Most of the growing areas have a high altitude ranging between 610 m and 1,830 m. However in a few areas like Machakos, coffee is grown at slightly lower altitudes.
  6. Transport – The growing areas have good roads which have enabled the crop to be transported to the buying centers and factories. This has also helped in marketing of the processed berries.
  7. Labor – Coffee growing is labor intensive. A lot of manual labor is required for. Planting, running and harvesting. The dense population in the growing areas has provided a source of labor.

Coffee plants are planted in a nursery regularly watered and shaded where they germinate and stay for about six months.

Processing of Coffee in Kenya

  1. The ripe berries are transported to the factory where they are weighed.
  2. They are then taken through a machine which removes the outer covering pulp.
  3. The berries are fermented for a while before curing by drying in the sun for one week.
  4. After curing, machines peel off two layers of inner husks before the berries are winnowed and graded.
  5. The beans are then sorted out according to size and quality.
  6. After this they are roasted at temperatures of about 100°C before being ground into powder.

Marketing of Coffee in Kenya

Kenya has two coffee marketing systems: Central auction system and direct sale. The time-tested central auction system commonly referred to as Nairobi Coffee Exchange, is a market where licensed dealers buy coffee through competitive bidding. Coffee auctions are conducted every Tuesday. The coffee exchange is under the management of the Kenya Coffee Producers and Traders Association.

A direct sale, commonly referred to ‘Second Window’, requires a marketing agent to directly negotiate with a buyer outside the country and a sales contract is signed and registered with the coffee board. The board registers the contracts after inspecting and analyzing the coffee for quality and value.

There are two categories of marketing agents: Commercial Marketing agents who offer services for commercial purposes and grower marketers who are growers licensed to market their own coffee.

Coffee beans are wet-processed and graded by the size of the beans-AA is the largest followed by A and B which are smaller. After milling, coffee beans are graded mechanically into various grades, which differ in size, shape and weight. Incorporated into the grading systems are color-sorting machines which separate high quality coffee beans from light and defective ones electronically.

E is the largest of grades in size and is called ‘Elephant’. Usually, two seeds are joined together to form a single cherry. This grade also includes the large PB beans. Like PB, this grade is normally in smaller quantities in a consignment.

AA has good size formation of large beans and usually fetches the highest price. AB is a combination of two grades- A and B. AB is regarded as a representative of other grades in a consignment. PB contains round beans, which grow as one in a single cherry. About 10 per cent of coffee falls in this grade. C’s beans are smaller than B and most of them are thin, while TT is composed of light beans usually separated front other grades. T is the smallest and thinnest of the beans. Most beans in this grade are broken and faulty. It is always below the others. MN /ML are the coffee that has not gone through wet processing because it was not picked or fell from the trees after ripening. About 7 per cent of the crop falls into this grade. It fetches lower prices and has sour tasting liquor.

The grades are subjected to a vigorous classification by the Liquoring Department of the CBK. Cup quality is described as fine fairer to good, fair to average quality down to common plain liquor. Coffee of good raw quality and appearance with a good roast has pleasant flavor.

Role of Government in Promoting Coffee Farming in Kenya

  1. The Government of Kenya has taken several steps to assist small scale coffee farmers in Kenya. These include:
  2. The government has conducted research on new species of coffee and methods of controlling pests and diseases.
  3. It has constructed new roads and improved existing ones in the growing areas to enhance the transportation of coffee.
  4. Through the Ministry of Agriculture the government has provided extension workers to advice the farmers on better methods of coffee farming.
  5. Through the KPCU and other financial institutions, the government has advanced loans to farmers to assist them to improve on their farming.
  6. Through Coffee Board of Kenya, the government helps farmers to market their coffee.

Problems Facing Coffee Farmers in Kenya

Coffee fanning in Kenya is experiencing a number of problems. Some of these are:

  1. Soil exhaustion: Soils have been exhausted since coffee places a high demand on soil nutrients.
  2. Climatic hazards: Inadequate and unreliable rainfall lowers the quality and quantity of the yield.
  3. Price fluctuations: Fluctuation of prices in the world markets discourages the farmers.
  4. Pests and diseases: Pests and diseases like leaf rust, coffee berry disease, root rot destroy the crops reducing the yields.
  5. Expensive farm inputs: High prices of farm inputs reduce the farmers profit margins.
  6. Limited land for expansion: The available land is facing competition from other well paying crops offered by the horticultural sector. Coffee farmers therefore may not expand quite easily.
  7. Delayed payments: Delayed payments to farmers for the crop delivered. This lowers their morale in coffee production.
  8. Shortage of labor: At times there is shortage of labor. This occurs mainly during the harvesting period, and the situation has been worsened by the HIV (AIDS)
  9. Competition in the world market: Despite the setting of annual export quotas by the International Coffee Organization, Kenyas coffee industry still faces competition in the world market due to hooding occasioned by over production.
  10. Mismanagement: Coffee co-operative societies have been mismanaged leading to embezzlement of funds. This has led to low income for the farmers.
  11. Poor roads: Some of the feeder roads in the growing areas are poorly maintained and impassable during the rainy season.

This has made it difficult for the farmers to deliver their produce on time to the processing factories.

Importance of Coffee Farming in Kenya

Foreign exchange – Through the export of coffee, the country earns foreign exchange. For many years, it was the leading foreign exchange earner before the sector was mismanaged. However, it still earns some revenue which has been used in the country’s development.

Employment – Coffee growing has offered employment to many Kenyans. This has been directly e.g. through the picking of coffee and indirectly through the related industries.

Development of industries – Coffee growing has contributed to the development of coffee related industries e. g coffee processing factories. This has helped in industrialization of the country.

High standards of living – Through the direct sale of their crops, farmers have earned income from coffee. This has raised their standard of living.

Development of infrastructure – Due to coffee growing, roads have been constructed to link the growing areas to the factories. Others have been graded and improved. This has led to improvement of infrastructure in the country.

Saves foreign exchange – Coffee growing has provided high quality coffee for local consumption. This saves the country foreign exchange by reducing the need to import coffee.

Branding Kenyan Coffee

Kenyan coffee beans are traditionally exported for processing at various destinations. The high quality coffee is used to blend beans from other destinations. The export of coffee as a commodity does not accord it distinctiveness.

Currently, coffee is sold as a raw material for subsequent processing. Nearly 98 per cent of national production is exported. The insignificant two per cent balance is processed by roasting and packaged locally in retail packs. This is what is consumed in the domestic market.

Coffee beans are packaged in jute bags/sisal of 50kg units and exported in their raw green form. The branding initiative, launched in January 2010 by the Coffee Board of Kenya (CBK), is supposed to facilitate distinctiveness in the market. This will trigger demand and impact on returns of growers.

A national logo has been developed and is applied to coffees, which meet the minimum quality of the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). The European Union funded project facilitates the establishment of regional cupping centers, which will be part of elaborate inspection and certification protocols.

Brand development revolutionizes coffee production and enhances recognition of Kenya coffee in International markets. The logo represents the bold, distinctive, full bodied flavor of Kenya coffee. It is an embodiment of the good attributes of coffee produced in Kenya as captured by the majestic Mt. Kenya in the background, the boldness of the roasted coffee beans and the rich tapestry of Kenya, hence the tagline: So Rich, So Kenyan

CBK is the legal custodian of the logo. Its application is limited to packages with 100 per cent Kenya coffee. Registered and licensed coffee traders can use the logos in promotional campaigns.

 Coffee Export Standardization Fund in Kenya

The Coffee Export Standardization Fund supports coffee farmers in Kenya to boost farming, including value addition, and fetch better prices in the international market. The Ministry of Agriculture and the German Technical Co-operation (GTZ) also promote private sector development in agriculture.

Source: Soft Kenya