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Importance, Economic value and production of Coffee in Kenya


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.

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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.

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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.

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Best Methods Of Becoming A Successful Coffee Farmer

Arabica Coffee

The coffee plant is a warm climate trim that can develop to a height of somewhere in the range of 16 and 40 feet. In many farms the trees are kept at six feet for better yields and easier picking. The trees have lavish, sparkly green leaves joined to long thin branches. At the point when the plant is in season, little white blooms show up from the base of the leaves. After pollination, the blossoms are replaced by fruits.

Kenya grows mainly Arabica on rich volcanic soils found in the highlands of the country and most is produced by small-scale farmers. Kenya coffee has a bright acidity and a wonderful sweetness with a dry winy aftertaste, according to the Coffee Research Foundation. A good Kenya coffee will also have a black-current flavor and aroma, it says.

Coffee is also one of Kenya’s largest revenue earners and has farmers this year smiling from cheek to cheek, over the good prices. Kenya’s varieties are currently among the most expensive globally.

Management of Coffee

Management and growing of coffee has gone through the bad times over the years, only until just recently because prices were down and it had lost appeal. Many farmers had dumped or uprooted the crop. Others had totally neglected their bushes, which were bringing more losses than benefits. But now, things have changed and many are rushing to grow the crop or tend to it again. Problem is how do you go about it?

There are various varieties of the crop developed to suit different altitudes and growing areas. Coffee growing from bean to cup also goes through various stages. The process starts from selection of the right variety for your area, sowing the seed in beds, transplanting into special foil planting bags, final transplanting, fertilizing, pruning for older crops, spraying and harvesting. Alternatively, seedlings are bought from CRF and its centers.

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Coffee varieties grown in Kenya

There are two main varieties :- Arabica and Robusta

Arabica beans are mild in the cup, with comparatively less caffeine, while Robusta has more aromatic. The Robusta tree appears bushier, the leaves are larger and the berries form in clusters

  • Coffee Research Foundation (CRF) currently produces four commercial cultivars (varieties) of Arabica coffee. Different varieties are recommended for various altitudes.
  • K7 – low altitude coffee areas with serious Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR).
  • SL 28 – medium to high coffee areas without serious CLR.
  • SL 34 – high coffee zone with good rainfall.
  • Ruiru 11 – all coffee growing areas. Resistant to both Coffee Berry Disease (CBD) and CLR.

K7 cultivar was selected at Legetet Estate in Muhoroni from the French Mission Coffee. It is distinguished by its spreading habit on young laterals although older primaries tend to be decumbent or drooping. It has characteristic medium to narrow leaves with young shoot-tips that are intermediate bronze in colour. The cultivar has resistance to some races of CLR as well as partial resistance to CBD. It is suited for lower altitudes where CLR is prevalent. The bean and liquor qualities are good.

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SL 28
The SL 28 cultivar was selected at the former Scott Laboratories (now the National Agricultural Laboratories, NARL situated at Kabete) on a single tree basis from the Tanganyika Drought Resistant variety selected in Northern Tanzania in 1931. The prefix SL in the variety name are acronymous for Scott Laboratories where the variety was selected. The name is completed by a serial number (28) for the selection. The variety is suited for medium to high altitude coffee growing zones.

SL 34
SL 34 was also selected at the former Scott Laboratories from French Mission Coffee. The cultivar is adapted to high altitude areas with good rainfall. It is majorly characterized by dark bronze shoot tipped plants with a few green-tipped strains. The laterals have semi-erect habit which tend to become decumbent or drooping on older primaries. The cultivar produces high yields of fine quality coffee but is susceptible to CBD, CLR and BBC.

Ruiru 11
Ruiru 11 variety was released in 1985. The variety name has the prefix “Ruiru” referring to the location of the Kenyan Coffee Research Station where the variety was developed. The name is completed by an additional two code numbers, 11. The first code number denotes the type of variety as a one way cross between two designated parent populations and the second number defines the sequence of release, in this case the first release. The variety is not only resistant to CBD and CLR but is also compact allowing farmers to intensity production per unit land especially in high potential areas where population is high and coffee is in competition with other crops and farm enterprises required for food security and income. Ruiru 11 is planted at a density of 2500/3300 trees/ha compared to 1300 trees/ha for the traditional varieties. This translates into a higher production per unit area of land. The variety comes into production earlier, hence earlier realization of benefits to the farmers. The development of Ruiru 11 also took into consideration the importance of quality as a major marketing parameter. Since the quality of the traditional varieties was already popular among consumers of Kenyan coffee, Ruiru 11 was developed with quality attributes similar to the traditional varieties. 

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  • Planting materials can be picked from the
  • Coffee Research Foundation.
  • the seeds germinate if sown within eight weeks following the harvest. They are sown one to two centimetres deep in specially constructed beds.
  • After five to eight weeks the tiny plants reach the surface. As soon as the first pair of leaves appear, sometimes even sooner, the seedlings are transplanted to special foil planting bags called polycovers or to peat pots. They are then set 20 to 25 cm apart in large, predominantly shaded beds.
  • Six months later, the young plants are 30 to 50 cm tall. They are then transplanted to their final place in the coffee plantation, now at a distance of one to three meters apart.
  • The newer varieties of coffee trees begin to bear fruit from the second or third year. Older varieties produce their first harvest after five years. The new Batian variety starts producing fruit after two years.

A tree does well in well aerated areas with well drained with fertile soil. Coffee trees need a lot of oxygen to their roots during the growth process, which is why many farmers rely on aerating the soil to help them thrive and grow.

According to Mr Maina, an experienced farmer, says coffee trees require a steady amount of rainfall at anywhere from 1500 to 2000 mm per year. If there is less rainfall yearly within the coffee growing region, then that deficit needs to be accounted for through irrigation.

Many of the finest trees are grown at higher altitudes at over 3000 feet. The reason that this is so important to growing coffee plants, is because it provides cloud cover and mist.

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Why coffee farmers are encouraged to inter-crop with macadamia nuts

Coffee was once a major cash crop for Kenyan farmers but of late things have changed as trees such as  macadamia nad avocado are replacing both tea and coffee. Coffee crops are incredibly sensitive to temperature changes. Increasing temperatures world-wide could make it difficult to grow coffee. Farmers have tried to lower the temperature for coffee plants by inter-cropping them with shade trees. But so far, they haven’t been very successful. The trees provided too much shade and competed with the coffee plants for nutrients. The farmers lost money because they didn’t produce as much coffee.

A perfect match would be a tree that provides the right amount of shade. It would ideally also be a tree that produced a second cash crop.

Researchers have realized that coffee inter-cropped with macadamia trees is a ‘perfect marriage.’ This partnership benefits the coffee plants and improves environmental conditions. It also provides a considerable source of income to coffee producers.  According to research conducted in Brazil, the researchers discovered that the two crops were cooperating, and the union could help farmers economically.

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Advantages of inter-cropping coffee with Macadamia

Currently, 90% of Kenyan coffee farms grow coffee as a mono-crop. But based on the current trends, more farmers may decide to inter-crop with macadamia trees. The research found that farmers could use several varieties of macadamia in the inter-cropping system. But Muranga 20 macadamia cultivar is the most suitable for inter-cropping with coffee. This variety of macadamia tree provides the best economic result. The economic benefit of this combination is 178% higher than the monocropped coffee.

Muranga 20 is nearly a match made in heaven for intercropping with coffee. It’s a hybrid macadamia developed in Kenya  and has a smaller canopy than other types of macadamia trees. The smaller canopy means it competes less with the coffee plants while still providing shade. The farmers don’t have to prune the trees as often.

But the perks don’t stop there. Intercropping also improves soil fertility. This means farmers can produce more crops with less fertilizers and pesticides. Plus, shaded coffee plantations can reduce water pollution and help decrease the greenhouse effect. With a marriage this good, Kenya, which is the one of the world’s largest producer and exporter of coffee, may also become the largest producer of macadamia.

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Ludovick Karanja is a farmer in Kiambu County who has been planting coffee since 1968. According to Charles Njoroge an Agronomist, coffee can be intercropped with Macadamia. Unlike other trees, macadamia as highlighted above is a commercial tree which also if taken care properly can earn the farmer some income as well as providing shade.

A kilo of Coffee in the current market can give you a range of 70-100 while macadamia sells between 150-220 per kilo. An acre of land can host about 750 coffee bushes and 50-55 trees of macadamia if inter-cropped.

According to Naushad Merali, Group Chair, Sasini Ltd, Sasini Ltd is building a Mega Macadamia processing company as they plan on entering into Macadamia business. Once processed, a kilo of Macadamia can fetch upto Ks 1500 per Kilo.

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Profitable Coffee Farming in Kenya

Coffee is one of the major cash crops in East Africa. Contrary to what people think, or read on social media, Coffee farming can make you a millionaire. What most people don’t tell you is how coffee is catered for and how you can make more money from few coffee bushes.

According to Coffee Research Institute (CRI), a farmer can earn more than KSh 640,000 per acre per year. Assuming you have 10 acres, you will make more than 6.4 million per year. With more than 10 acres you become one of the key people that will offer employment to the youth and women as well as creating wealth for yourself.

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The management of CRI, is now urging people to invest in coffee farming. CRI through their continued research have come up with a Batian variety, which has taken over 30 years of dedicated research. This variety is resistant to diseases, requires less to produce, and can yield as much as 40 kgs of berries per year in a single tree.

The major counties that originally produced coffee include, Meru, Tharaka -nithi, Nyeri, Embu, Nakuru, Kirinyaga, Machakos, Makueni, Nyamira, Bungoma, Kisii and Muranga. Others include, West pokot, Trans Nzoia, Uasingishu, ElgeyoMarakwet, Nandi, Baringo, Kericho, Bomet, Laikipia, Narok, Kajiado, Kakamega, Vihiga, Homa bay, Migori, Busia, Siaya, TaitaTaveta and Kwale. Seedlings are of date available in those counties in certified private nurseries, farmers co-operatives as well as Coffee Research Institute regional offices.

Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world after oil. The global appeal and increasing demand for quality coffee from Kenya is an assurance of increased demand.  In 2014, Kenya branded coffee was voted best in the world by the leading coffee taster.

In 2014, international market registered 146 bags millions of bags with consumption recorded at 142 million bags. Coffee consumption is estimated to be growing by 2 per cent annually. In the past decade, Kenyan coffee sector has undergone various changes, both at policy and production levels. The demand for coffee is huge. Currently, the country is producing 50 000 metric tons against the potential of 130 000 metric tons. It is time to make money. Start or increase acreage under coffee but also enhance productivity per bush through quality coffee management.

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Over time now, coffee has been associated with old age and poor payments. It is time for young people to move in and revive the sector. It is not a must to join a cooperative to sell your coffee. Those who Know how to do it are making millions, Gachatha co-operative in Nyeri County farmers were this year paid over Ksh 100 per kilogram. Some people like Equity CEO James Mwangi are major large-scale farmers who make millions out of the berries.

With more than 5 acres you get licensed to operate a pulping station and sell to millers. The technology in pulping has also improved. You can get a nice machine from as low as KSh. 60,000. There are several cases of young people who have become millionaires by getting it right.

It’s time to get our hands dirty and make clean money, you don’t have to be corrupt to make it in Kenya, try farming and when you think coffee, do it right and see the difference.