By George Munene
Since 1984 Paul Muthuyia has been rearing coffee; from the heady 80s to the lean 90s he’s seen it all; now in retirement, the veteran farmer based in Equator, Meru, earns over one million shillings yearly from his 1770 coffee trees on two acres of farmland.
While he previously juggled dairying with coffee rearing, now in his 60s, he’s opted to exclusively deal in coffee, setting it up as his retirement plan given its relatively limited demand in upkeep once established.
While most other coffee farmers with much larger tracts of land struggle to turn a profit, his coffee farm is a testament to his over 37 years of experience in the crops husbandry. Every tree seems like a facsimile of the next with 30 nodes each with at least 300 beans which yield between one and one and a half kilograms a tree annually. With each tree holding at least 40 branches, he harvest from each at least 50 kilograms of cherry.
“Since 1976 when a loaf of bread cost 50 cents and we were selling a kilogram of coffee for four shillings and fifty cents, as long as the price of a kilo of coffee is at least equivalent to that of a loaf of bread, I know I’ll turn a profit,” Paul said.
30 percent of his gross income goes into meeting overheads leaving him with a healthy chunk of change.
His main one acre farm holds 1,000 trees of Ruiru 11 coffee bushes. The strain is hardy requiring little fungicide application. He has a further 770 trees of SL28 on different plotlets. The variety was developed by Scott Laboratories (SL), between 1934 and 1963 and is famed for its prolific production and weighty beans owing to its thicker bark. It is also the more marketable vintage.
“Part of the reason coffee prices slumped in the 90s after the booming 70s and 80s owed to shortcuts taken by farmers in the crops establishment which greatly reduced the quality of Kenyan coffee,” Paul explains. Having recently retired as a director of Kianjuri Farmers Co-operative Society, he bore witness to this.
Coffee establishment is the most crucial phase in coffee growing with minor missteps at this early stage having major implications down the line. “Once you mess up during planting, getting optimum yield or quality from your coffee is impossible, it is also costly trying to undo this,” he counsels.
While the Coffee Research Institute (CRI) recommends a 6×6 feet spacing between holes, Paul opts for 9×9 feet SL recommended spacing. From experience, this allows for optimum light and air infiltration in his crop.
Given that coffee is a tap rooted crop, he prepares a 3×3 foot hole filled intermittently with mulch, manure and top soil to encourage root growth. This is done before the onset of long rains to increase survival rates.
His daily crop husbandry routine kicks off at 10 am when he conducts daily scouting. This helps arrest any onset of disease. Prevention is especially critical given his coffee is almost exclusively organically grown.
For an in-depth breakdown on coffee establishment, selection, planting, etc., from an expert farmer with 37 years of experience in coffee farming, sign up to part 1 of our Coffee growing guide that will be hosted by Paul Muthuri here: Coffee growing – Part 1