While many frustrated coffee farmers were abandoning their crop or uprooting it altogether, Mrs Njambi Wachira was doing the exact opposite — leasing the abandoned farms and breathing life back into them.
Nothing will separate this mother of two from her coffee farm, neither the unpredictable coffee prices, nor the coffee wars that occasionally flare up in coffee factories in her home area. “Whether the payments are poor or not, the secret is in having the best quality and more kilos of cherry, that way, a farmer will always have something to take home,” she says.
Mrs Wachira owns 400 flourishing coffee bushes that have become a source of inspiration to farmers in Nyeri. Located at Chorong’i village, her farm has become a training centre for other farmers. Going by her visitor’s book, the farm is frequented by senior coffee researchers, senior county and national government officials and agriculture officers.
Her day begins at around 6am, when she wakes up to inspect her bushes, taking time to study and understand each tree. She has mastered each of the 400 bushes in her farm and can easily tell each individual tree’s weakness, strengths, performance and its production history.
The grower developed a special interest in the coffee bushes in 2011, when they were totally neglected.
Passion for this crop has seen her visit places and make a name in the coffee industry. By 8am, farmers, agricultural officers and curious visitors start trickling in to her farm for tutorial lessons about coffee farming.
Although she has no degree in coffee production, her perseverance, hard work and interest in coffee management has earned her respect and admiration from farmers in the area. “She is our best performer and an encouragement to those who had neglected or totally abandoned their coffee bushes, those who uprooted theirs are replacing them on getting tutorials from Mrs Wachira,” says Mr Hunyu Githae, the chair of Mutheka Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society.
She says it has not been easy rising to be among the best coffee farmers in her area. Sometimes, it has been frustrating. “My husband’s family decided to subdivide the family land and that is how we got the neglected coffee bushes. I started working on them, very hard, investing every coin I had. I also took farm inputs on credit from my Chorong’i Factory, but believe me not, I never harvested a single kilo of cherry. I did everything but at the wrong time and the wrong way, thus the bushes aborted all the flowers and few cherries they had,” she says. She was left penniless with a loan to clear at the factory, and some explaining to do to her husband, then a truck driver in Nairobi . “I explained the whole thing to my husband when he visited, I expected him to react very negatively, but I was more concerned when he remained silent carefully listening and watching me. The next thing he did was to walk into the farm at that late hour at night; he later came back but never said a thing about the losses. He woke up very early in the morning to again survey the farm,” she recalls. He had been impressed. The farm was clear of weeds, the coffee bushes pruned clean and well-manured. “He asked me about my plans with the coffee and I told him that I intended to give it a second, a third and even a fourth try. He stared at me and asked if I needed any assistance from him, to which I answered that my fears were that the factory may not be willing to give me any more inputs on credit,” says the farmer.
A few hours later, he came back with a few members of her factory’s management, who, after a quick inspection of the farm, instantly agreed to advance her more inputs. Buoyed by this support, she begun studying more about coffee production, attending all farmers training days, seeking advice from lead farmers and experts, and reaped her first reward in the form of 500 kilogrammes of cherry.
Her production increased to 1,500kgs in 2013, then 4,000kgs in 2014, and by last year, rose to 9,800 Kgs. She is optimistic that this year it will hit over 12,000kgs, which is equivalent to 30kgs per bush.
Her farm is attracting the attention of agrochemical manufacturing companies and coffee research firms, some of whom sponsored her for coffee farming training at the Coffee Research Foundation in Ruiru. Another top official with an agrochemicals manufacturing company offered her a chance for an educational tour to coffee farms in Burundi and Tanzania “I was motivated by the big number of women interested in coffee, unlike in Kenya, where coffee farming is a man’s business,” she says.
Her advice for coffee farmers?
Do not inter-crop coffee with anything else. “Stop intercropping coffee with maize and beans, at the end of the day, none of the crops produce anything worthwhile.
Either uproot the coffee and concentrate on food production, or let it stand alone. Intercropping compromises cherry quality and quantity, it is, therefore, a waste of land and resources,” she says.
Farmers should do proper research on the types of inputs they intend to apply, she says. They must purchase from reputable organisations, where quality is guaranteed. “Cheaper is always expensive, it’s the way you feed and tend to your coffee that will determine the harvests.
Every coffee farmer must have a copy of the coffee calendar available at Coffee Research Foundation and adhere to it. Besides the annual coffee payments, Mrs
Wachira earns handsome income training other farmers, charging the Ksh200 per person.