In Kenya, there is no other crop that is intertwined with the history and economic development as coffee. Coffee was introduced into Kenya at about the same time the Colonial masters were just commencing their journeys into Africa and has remained a major contributor to the country economy over more than a century since its introduction.
No matter the economic crisis, it remains in the hearts of Kenyans in terms of development. And the international consumers and buyers of Kenyan variety have not failed to appreciate the good work done by the thousands of farmers who till the land to provide some of the best coffee the world produces.
Even as we all complain, most Kenyans have in one way or another benefited from the coffee bushes. Our forefathers have used coffee, tea and other major cash crops to educate us.
Production of Coffee
Kenyan variety is well known for its intense flavor, full body, and pleasant aroma with notes of cocoa. Coffee from Kenya is of the ‘mild arabica’ type that is used around the world by blenders and roasters to boost the quality of their blends.
It has a distinctly bright acidity and potent sweetness with a dry winy aftertaste. Among the best Kenya variety, one can find intoxicating black-currant flavor and aroma, according to the Coffee Board of Kenya
The industry in Kenya is noted for its cooperative system of production and processing. About 60-70% of Kenyan variety is produced by small scale holders.
The major growing regions in Kenya are the High Plateaus around Mt. Kenya, the Aberdares Range and some parts of Nyanza and Rift Valley. The high plateaus of Mount Kenya, plus the acidic soil provide excellent conditions for its growth. A total of 150,000 hectares of arable land in Kenya is planted with coffee.
Although it has has lately benefited from an increase in global prices, output has contracted from a high of about 130,000 metric tons in 1989 to 50,000 tons in 2012.
Experts are worried that the dramatic 50% fall in its production in Kenya in the year 2000 from over 100,000 tonnes to just above 50000 tonnes will never be recovered in the country, with the sector going through a myriad number of challenges.
Economic Value of Coffee
Agriculture is the back bone of Kenya’s economy. In 2005 agriculture, including forestry and fishing, accounted for about 24 percent of GDP, as well as for 18 percent of wage employment and 50 percent of revenue from exports.
Coffee is one of the major cash crops in Kenya, coming third after tea and horticultural produce. In 2005 horticulture accounted for 23 percent and tea for 22 percent of total export earnings. However, it has declined in importance, accounting for just 5 percent of export receipts in 2005. Even with this decline over the last 10-20 years, the coffee industry injected over 100 billion shillings to the country’s Gross Domestic Product over the last 10 years to 2011, according to the Office of the President
It is estimated that over 700,000 small-scale and large-scale farmers are involved in coffee farming. In addition, the coffee industry, due to its forward and backward linkages, directly and indirectly benefits about 5 million people in the country.
The contribution of coffee into the economic well being of the country cannot therefore be wished away, considering it touches the lives of about one-eighth of the population
Coffee earnings have been adversely affected by reduced world prices since the 1970s highs that occurred as a result of collapse of quota agreements in the early 1990s that had been put in place by members of the International Coffee Organization since 1963. The collapse of the quota system led to a drastic reduction in coffee prices around the world; Kenya felt the full effect of the low prices.
Farmers who had been used to fairly stable prices for many years could not afford to take good care of the crop any more due to steep rise in input costs (due to the effect of the Structural Adjustment programs pushed for by the IMF and World Bank on Kenya) on one hand, and a steep fall in prices of the crop on the other.
They therefore abandoned the crop in the farms or in the extreme, cut down the whole crop and used the farms for alternative crops such as Hass Avocados.
Even as people complain about prices of coffee and how its not doing well, it still remains one of the best cash crops and farmers still enjoy its fruits.