All attention has turned to coffee as the export market begs for rejuvenation

Nestlé has rolled out a training programme to encourage more women and youth  to venture into coffee farming even as the latest report by the Coffee Directorate shows that farmers are losing patience with the crop due to its low revenues.  The waning interest is a threat to the country's export portfolio, which has coffee as the fourth foreign currency earner after tourism, horticulture and tea.

Last year, the country’s earnings from coffee export grew by 17 per cent to $254.2m contributing less than 1 per cent of the global Arabica coffee, a plain shadow of the country’s production rate up to 1989 when the crop was the leading foreign exchange earner for Kenya.

Nestle Kenya is offering training and technical support to coffee farmers across the country in a bid to increase the crop production which is the company’s main raw material for its products. According to Ciru Miring’u, Managing Director of Nestlé East Africa, the programme has already reached 41,000 coffee farmers in Central and Eastern Kenya. The imitative which is implemented by the Coffee Management System is expected to cost the company at least sh40m.

Just like other export crops in the country, coffee earnings has been experiencing downwards trend due to low beans quality; high cost of labor and inputs; erratic rains; high incidences of pests and diseases; competition from other farm enterprises; and poor governance of farmer organizations, this according to the 2015 coffee annual report by the Global Agricultural Information Network.

This has made most large scale producers near Nairobi to opt for lucrative real estate business leaving the production burden to nearly 600,000 small scale farmers owning less than two hectares. Currently, coffee is cultivated on about 170,000 hectares with only 3270 large scale producers almost a half the number of such farmers in late 80s.

A part from Nestle initiative, county governments in the coffee growing areas have embarked on a vigorous mission to revive coffee production with most of them currently at various stages of putting in place laws to regulate coffee production and marketing.
In Murang’a County for instance, coffee farmers are being encouraged to form Saccos with the local government linking them directly with international markets. This according to Governor Mwangi Wa Iria is expected to increase earnings for local farmers who traditionally have been delivering to local coffee agencies and middlemen at very low price. Local farmers have also set up cottage companies to do value addition on the crop to increase revenues.

Kenya is hoping to ride on such initiatives to revive the once glorious coffee industry that was envy to global competitor like Brazil who now command 40 per cent of the global export market and perhaps earn the country the much needed foreign currency at the time Kenya’s economy is heading south.