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New coffee policy to boost crop returns

By WANGECHI WAITHERA
The Chairman of Coffee Sub-sector Reforms Implementation Committee Prof. Joseph Kieyah (right), when he visited Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga.

A new coffee policy is expected to be revealed soon following its drafting and ongoing public consultation meetings across the coffee-growing counties.

The draft policy has been developed by Prof. Joseph Kieyah’s led Coffee Sub-Sector Reforms Implementation Committee.

The draft policy indicates that production has declined by 68 percent since 1988 from 129,000 tons to the current 40,000.

“This unfavorable performance is attributed to the low adoption of good farming practices and poor processing facilities in the co-operative societies,” said Prof Keiyah.

He said only 30 percent of Kenyan coffee is specialty coffee while the rest falls under the commercial and low-quality bracket. He noted there is a need to introduce a new system of grading before pulping is done so that each farmer is paid according to the grade of their coffee.

But cupping centres which are used to assess the quality of coffee is few and far spread between the co-operatives.

He noted that the sector lacks a comprehensive coffee marketing strategy and is dominated by cartels that distort market mechanisms.

“About 90 percent of our coffee is sold through the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) while only 10 percent is sold through direct sales,” he added.

The market infrastructure including the NCE floor, use of ICT technology and warehousing are underdeveloped to the disadvantage of farmers.

Kenyan coffee, he noted, is regarded as a specialty coffee used to blend other coffees and premium prices are offered for good quality coffee.

About 95 percent of local coffee is exported in semi-processed form yet most countries derive most of their coffee revenue from selling value-added coffee.

Value addition is currently undertaken by private companies comprising 13 dealers and 7 growers’ co-operatives and unions.

“Value addition fetches better and predictable prices and promotes agro-processing in line with the government’s Big Four agenda,” he said.

Kieyah said the committee is in the process of collecting views from stakeholders before the final draft is drawn and handed to the agriculture minister before the end of the year.

The area under cultivation has also declined by 32 percent from 420,079 acres to the current 98,842 acres while the number of small-scale farmers stands at 700,000.

According to the draft policy, the country will have no coffee left by 2046 should the trend continue with the reduction being attributed to the upcoming of other competing and more profitable ventures in the coffee zones.

Out of the 3,000 large scale coffee farmers in Kenya, 2,400 are small estates with an acreage of between 5 to 20 spread across the 32 coffee-growing counties.

Also, 99 percent of the coffee grown in the country is Arabica while one percent is under Robusta but there is a huge potential coffee farming in non-traditional coffee growing areas like Rift-valley for the Arabica variety while Western and Nyanza regions are suitable for Robusta.

Currently, farmers are only able to produce an average of two kilograms of coffee per tree against a potential of 10 kilograms.

In 1988, a tree produced an average of four kilograms per tree, with the decline attributed to the increased cost of production per tree which amounts to Sh51 while the average price per tree is Sh69, translating to a profit of Sh18,000 per acre annually. Soil fertility, aging farming community, climate change, and declining crop husbandry are also to blame for the reduced production.

The Coffee Research Institute has however developed improved coffee varieties, Ruiru 11 and Batian, that are high yielding and disease tolerant and are able to withstand the Coffee Berry Disease and the Coffee Leaf Rust, saving farmers about 30 percent of the production costs.

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