By Jackson Okoth
It is boom time for the coffee industry as sizzling hot demand for the commodity, both at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) and on the world market, pushes up prices.
Incidentally, it is when prices are asgood as demand high on the world market that those ugly scenes, reminiscent of the 1970s when coffee was stolen from the farms, warehouses or milling plants, are slowly creeping back.
And lurking in the deep dark shadows is a powerful clique of coffee barons and cartels, busy strangling the industry and scheming to buy off cheaply, the Sh6 billion worth of assets belonging to the giant Kenya Planters Co-operative Union (KPCU), an umbrella farmers struggling to wriggle out of a crippling Sh700 million debt.
Although demand for Kenya coffee is high, the country is not able to supply the quantities.
"We are only producing an average of 2kg of berries per coffee tree, a yield that is still too low and cannot meet the high demand out there," Prof Kaburu Mâ Ribu, Board chairman, Coffee Research Foundation (CRF) told Financial Journal.
While addressing a recent capacity building workshop at Kenya Coffee College in Ruiru last week, a forum for coffee co-operatives societies from Central Kenya and Bungoma, Prof M âRibu said the challenge lies in increasing productivity, yield per tree and improving quality.
"We have one of the best coffee research facilities in the world and even the best quality, but we are unable to meet demand," said Prof M âRibu.
On a global scale, demand for coffee in Asian countries, especially China and India is high and growing. In South American countries such as Brazil are importing more coffee owing to changing consumer trends.