Why farmers are abandoning coffee production in Kenya

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Why farmers are abandoning coffee production in Kenya

Why farmers are abandoning coffee production in KenyaI come from Kangundo, a coffee-growing area. Many of us, from coffee-growing areas in Central Province, the Greater Meru District, Machakos, Makueni, Kisii, Bungoma, Nakuru and Baringo districts, will attest to the fact that coffee had a major socio-economic impact in our families.

I remember, in those days, picking coffee, loading it to an oxen-pulled cart and transporting it to the local co-operative coffee factory for weighing, processing and drying. During coffee peak production periods, many were the days I stayed late into the night to get my family’s coffee weighed at the coffee factory.

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At the coffee farm level, I would help out in weeding, spreading manure and fertilizer, pruning, and many other related agronomical aspects of the coffee. I also participated in communal work at the coffee factory. Each member of the co-operative would be required to provide labor for various activities like spreading coffee on coffee drying tables or other communal duties at the coffee factory.

What were my expectations after all this work? My pay was – “Christmas clothes” – which my father would buy for me when he got coffee payments.  My mother would carefully make other family money requests around coffee payout periods. It was fun growing up and doing all these activities which contributed to socio-economic wellbeing of the family.

Back to coffee – what is this product coffee?

Despite its proximity to Ethiopia (widely believed to be the region from which coffee originated), one source states that coffee was not cultivated in Kenya until 1893, when French Holy Ghost

Fathers introduced coffee trees from Reunion Island to Bura in Taita/Taveta district. This initial effort to introduce coffee to Kenya brought a calamity when some of these priests died when importing the Bourbon coffee trees from Brazil to Kenya.

However, when the railway reached Nairobi in 1900, the Holy Ghost Fathers planted many acres of coffee at St Austin in Nairobi and this was used as the nucleus around which Kenyan coffee-growing developed.

Meaningful coffee production and marketing of coffee, however, did not start taking shape until 1933 when Kenya enacted the Coffee Act which established the Coffee Board of Kenya, whose responsibilities include marketing Kenya coffee through weekly auctions.

The industry initially developed along estate lines (by European settlers) and by 1935 about 42,000 hectares were planted with Arabica coffee, producing approximately 22,000 tons of washed coffee. From 1935 till 1950 the hectarage under coffee declined steadily to 24,000 hectares, mainly due to poor prices.

The sharp rise in prices from 1950 onwards was responsible for the third phase in coffee development in Kenya and by 1955 production overtook the 1935 level to reach 23,000 tons. During this third phase the first major diversification of coffee production to smallholders occurred.

However, the process was slow and it was not until 1960 that production became really significant, both as regards quantity or quality. By 1964, smallholding mature hectares surpassed the estate hectares and smallholding production overtook estate production in 1965-66. By 1980 production from the smallholder sector was about the same as the production from the estate sector, although the average yields of the smallholder sector were well below the estate sector.

Modern Kenya coffee industry is noted for its cooperative system of production, processing, milling, marketing, and auction system. About 70% of Kenyan coffee is produced by small-scale holders. It was estimated in 2012 that there were about 150,000 coffee farmers in Kenya and other estimates are that six million Kenyans were employed directly or indirectly in the coffee industry.

In 2006, Kenya was the 21st largest producer of coffee in the world, producing over 50 million kilograms (112 million pounds). Coffee exports accounted for approximately five percent of all exports from Kenya.

Because of its importance to Kenya’s economy the World Bank through two major credits Smallholder Coffee Improvement Project (SCIP) I and II has financed various components of the coffee industry. Despite this support, coffee production in Kenya fell from about 130,000 metric tons in 1987/8 to 40,000 tons in 2011/12.

Many reasons have been advanced for the decline in small scale farmer coffee production but the recommendations the author and his team of experts made in their Co-operative Management Improvement Project Study (CMIP) in 1988 under SCIP I may shed light to the current low coffee production. Please read the findings and recommendations of this report in Life Lessons of an Immigrant by John Makilya by getting a copy from www.Amazon.com. For more details on this book visit https://johnmakilya.com. However, those who would like an autographed copy please call or text the author at 6176538386.

By John Makilya: Diaspora Messenger Contributor

 

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