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IT graduate smells aromatic returns of farming coffee

By Joseph Muchiri
Evalyne Nyawira at her farm in Kirinyaga County. [Joseph Muchiri, Standard]

For many years, farmers in Kenya’s coffee growing zones have been grumbling about the poor returns from the cash crop with some uprooting and others neglecting their stems.

But for Evalyne Nyawira, whose farm is in Kirinyaga County, the narrative is different. She ventured into coffee growing after several false starts in her career in Information Technology.

Ms Nyawira, 30, made her maiden steps in coffee farming in 2016 with 220 stems of Batian variety. The trees have now matured and earning her a decent income.

When Smart Harvest visited her farm, we met her donning a green overcoat gifted to her by a factory enriching her coffee with bio slurry.

“For properly tended coffee, I follow a strict round the year schedule of adding manure and foliar feeds and pruning to remove suckers, and the coffee pays back well. In fact, I’m happy that I made the right decision to relocate from Nairobi to become a farmer. I’m not keen on formal employment,” she says.

The IT graduate of Kenyatta University started her work life as an employee in a Nairobi firm before quitting to start her own computer sales and repairs shop.

She recalls a time when she supplied computers and accessories worth Sh200,000 to a friend’s firm who failed to pay and her business collapsed.

Brewing cash

“This affected my capital and my cash flow seriously. I was also frustrated by the Nairobi traffic jams that would consume a lot of my precious time. I reflected back home where my mother was already a top coffee farmer and was brewing serious money from it while I struggled in Nairobi. I quit,” she narrates.

Back at home, her parents who have 1,000 stems of coffee were not keen on handing her a fish dish but instead teaching her to fish.

Her mother Florence Karambu was the winner of Best Farmer Women in the Annual National Farmers Award Scheme in 2015.

“Instead of allocating her some coffee stems, we allocated her quarter an acre land out of the family’s five acres to plant her own coffee,” says Karambu.

Nyawira says she conducted research to establish the best variety for her ecological zone.

She settled on Batian variety, which she praises as being less vulnerable to coffee berry disease meaning she would save on expensive fungicides and benefit from lower production cost.

Rules of the game

As advised by an agronomist, she observed a spacing of 9 by 9 feet which minimises competition among the stems.

Owing to proper feeding and caring of the young coffee stems, they experienced thriving growth and she made her first harvest of an average of one kilo per bush in December 2017.

By the end of 2018, the well-tended coffee yielded an average of 10kgs per stem, a production that many small-scale farmers fail to attain due to various factors.

“I harvested around 2,200kgs in 2018 and I was highly motivated. In 2019 I took care of my coffee with even more dedication and I’m confident I will record 5,000kgs by the close of the current harvesting season this January,” beams a smiling Nyawira.

She delivers her coffee to Kiamutuira factory, which is under Mutira Farmers Cooperative Society. The factory paid at a rate of Sh100 in 2017 which plummeted to Sh86 in 2018 and declined further to Sh78 last year.

Sweet returns

From this season’s coffee, she expects to earn at least Sh500,000. The youthful farmer revealed that she is scouting for land to buy where she will plant more coffee stems.

Factory chairman James Njiraini attributes the lower pay out to the national decline in coffee rates which affected all factories. In fact some societies paid as low as Sh20 last year.

According to Njiraini who has been a coffee farmer for three decades, a farmer should strive to maximise productivity and they will always earn handsomely.

“If you produce only 200kgs and you are paid at a rate of Sh20, you will earn only Sh4,000. However, if you had 2,000kgs and were paid at the same rate you would earn Sh40,000. The size of your coffee plantation does not matter a lot but applying proper husbandry to achieve high production per bush,” says Njiraini, whose own coffee attains 50kgs per bush.

Nyawira averages her cost of production to Sh15 per kilo due to planting a disease resistant variety and availability of manure at home.

The home has a dairy cows section, whose droppings are directed to a biogas equipment which gives out bio slurry that Nyawira uses to enrich coffee.

The secret

“At this location, the bio slurry easily finds its way to the coffee roots. Bio slurry is rich in potassium and phosphorous,” she explains, adding that they have also allocated a portion for growing maize for feeding the cows.

In January and February she prunes and sprays zinc and boron to heal wounds in the trees and promote flowering.

She cautions against removing a lot of suckers and recommends a farmer should leave about five trees.

Nyawira also sprays folio fertiliser once monthly to promote leafing and ripening of berries.

James Kariuki from Mt Kenya Organic Coffee farmers, which works closely with Coffee Research Foundation says hybrids of Batian, Ruiru or SL coffee does well in Mt Kenya region.

“A farmer should wait until it rains to plant the seedlings,” he explains.

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