Kenyan women replace men as coffee champions

Kenyan women are delving into farming and marketing of coffee single handledly a departure from the past where their roles were reduced to picking berries with men taking over marketing and policy making.

Jane Njambi, a coffee farmer in Nyeri, is an example of how women are moving to take up roles in the coffee farming sector. “I have 450 trees of coffee. Each of them produces an average of 13 kilogrammes against the national averages of 2.5Kgs per tree,” said Njambi.

According to Njambi, her farm was producing 2,500 kilogrammes between 2012 and 2013 but now produces up to 9,000 Kgs of coffee annually after adopting good agricultural practices championed by Nestlé through their partnership with Coffee Management Services (CMS) as part of the global NESCAFÉ Plan Initiative.  

The NESCAFÉ Plan is one of Nestlé’s ‘Creating Shared Value’ projects.  Creating Shared Value (CSV) is at the core of how Nestlé does business – it begins with the understanding that for Nestlé to prosper in the long term, the communities that it serves must also prosper. Creating Shared Value will lead to economic value to both the shareholders and the community through actions that substantially address social and environmental change.

Ms. Njambi is among over 159 female promoter famers recruited and trained by Coffee Management Services to champion new coffee farming methods and technologies in nine Farmers’ Co-operative Societies (FCs) drawn from Central and Eastern regions as part of Nestlé’s NESCAFÉ plan.

“Our partnership with Coffee Management Services (CMS) is also working towards encouraging more women to take up leadership positions in the cooperatives. This is through empowerment programs currently going on,” said Svetlana Obruchkova, Managing Director of Nestlé Kenya.
The NESCAFÉ Plan aims to improve the quality and quantity of coffee production, ensure 4C (Common Code for Coffee Community) verification, ensure responsible farming, production and supply, and improve the living standards of coffee farmers in Central and Eastern Kenya.

“In addition to promoting women participation in the coffee sector, we have been successful in training farmers on good agricultural practices, establishing coffee nurseries with high yielding varieties, introducing disease-resistant crops and providing farmers with seedlings at subsidized rates among others,” said Svetlana.

However, the move to encourage women participation in the coffee sector is long overdue, compared with the tea sector which embraced women leadership a decade ago. 

“When compared to tea, the truth is that the coffee industry has been lagging behind as far as female participation is concerned and could be a contributing reason behind the current challenges on productivity. This is because the people who attend the meetings and trainings are not necessarily the ones implementing the activities on the ground.  This result to a big gap between the training and the implementation, which affects productivity,” said Catherine Ng’ang’a, Project Manager, Women in Coffee program at Coffee Management Services.

The NESCAFÉ Plan project incorporates a “Women in Coffee” training program.  In empowering the women in coffee, Nestlé and CMS are working with the 9 coffee cooperatives with the aim of encouraging more women participation in leadership positions by 2015. This is also in line with the Kenyan constitution of one third leadership positions been taken up by women.
“Women are now more involved in the coffee industry. Our programme aims to train directly more than 1,000 women in better agricultural practices, at the same time developing their confidence and business skills which they help pass to other members of their cooperatives,” said Svetlana. 

Kenyan coffee is in high demand in Britain and America with over 90 per cent of the crop finding its way to the export market, bringing in Sh12.4 billion in foreign exchange last year alone. However, management challenges in the coffee sector and reduced crop activity has reduced output from a record 130,000 tonnes in 1987/88 to an average of 50, 000 tonnes in recent years according to government statistics.

According to the UN, women perform 66 per cent of the world’s work, produce 50 per cent of the food, but only manage 10 per cent of the income and own 1 per cent of the property; statistics that CMS, together with Nestlé’s NESCAFE plan, is hoping to contribute in changing.