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Youth smell the coffee, ditch bodabodas for farming

By Phares Mutembei
Charles Mutwiri at his coffee farm at Nthimbiri, Central Imenti in Meru County. He owns over 30, 000 coffee bushes and has his own factory. [OLIVIA MURITHI/STANDARD] 

Somewhere in Meru, a group of youth is brewing a coffee revolution. The youth who might have looked at farming as old school and a reserve for their parents, are slowly embracing agriculture.

In their 20s and early 30s they want to prove that farming is cool and one can depend on it to meet their daily needs. Although most of them don’t own farms, their parents have allocated them spaces where they are crafting their own farming stories a coffee seedling at a time.

The project to get the youth into coffee farming was started by Mukarimu Coffee Estates, an outfit determined to revive coffee farming in the region. So far, more than 300 youth have benefited.

Mr Charles Mutwiri, the director of Mukarimu Coffee Estates, said as an experienced farmer who had made a living from the crop all his life, he was concerned that young people preferred boda boda riding to farming which is way better and risk-free.

James Kirimi, a beneficiary, says although it might take them five years to start reaping from the venture, he is optimistic the crop will help him educate and cater for his family needs when that time comes.

“Farming is the way to go for the youth. Our parents do not have energy as they used to so it is important for us to take over the farms, in my case I have inter-cropped the coffee with sweat potatoes which are fast maturing and from selling them I still make a few coins,” said Kirimi.

Mutwiri who has over 30,000 coffee trees in different farms in Meru, says he is determined to entice more youth into farming.

“I did not have much education and was given a small parcel by my father to plant coffee in 1976. But over the years, I increased production and bought land on which I added more coffee trees. Now I produce up to 200,000 kilos of coffee. I want to use my own experience to inspire the youth,” he adds.

Anyone interested, he says, gets 150 seedlings and they are also trained on how to plant and care for the trees.

“The SL 28 variety which we use has huge potential. When properly taken care of, it can produce up to 100kg of coffee. One kg can fetch up to Sh100. But as they wait for their trees to mature, the youth also plant sweet potatoes which pay well. We must teach our children that farming is where money is as people have to eat,” Mutwiri notes.

The Meru community is reputed as the first Kenyan Africans to grow coffee in Kenya in early 1930s upon the implementation of the Devonshire White Paper of 1923.

Coffee growing in Meru is dictated by the climatic conditions throughout the year which has two rainy seasons. The other factor which contributes to coffee growing in Meru is the volcanic soils of the high latitude regions found in the slopes of Mount Kenya and the Nyambene ranges.

Districts noted for coffee farming in Meru County include Central Imenti, South Imenti and North Imenti among others.  pmutembei@standardmedia.co.ke    

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