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Baringo farmers smell the coffee and return to tending to the crop

James Cheptoo at his coffee farm in Baringo North. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Farmers in Baringo County had given up on coffee because it was no longer lucrative, and they had turned their plantations into grazing fields or uprooted the crop.

The venture to them was a waste of time and resources but little did they know coffee farming was the next big thing.

“Between 1991 and 2008, the price of coffee was at its lowest and people were no longer interested in it. People shifted to farming other crops and neglected the coffee trees,” said 60-year-old Mark Yatich.

Yatich, who is the chairman of Tugen Hills Farmers Cooperative Society, said that he was among those who gave up on coffee farming and planted Napier grass.

“Since coffee was not giving any returns, I planted Napier grass. I had around 600 coffee trees and uprooted 400. Quite a number of farmers uprooted their trees and had no intentions of taking care of the crop,” he said.

In 2015, he noted that the coffee business was beginning to pick up and went back to coffee farming. He said that there has been a rise in prices.

In 2016, he said farmers were paid Sh80 per kilo of parchment. In 2017, the price was Sh153 and in 2019, they got Sh260. Farmers are now earning between Sh450  and Sh650 per kilo.

“Since 2016, there has been a serious uptake of the crop and more people are going back to coffee farming. We have even had a shortage of coffee seedlings due to the high uptake,” he said.

James Jeptoo, 67, said they abandoned farming coffee since the sector started taking a nose dive.

Jeptoo said though he never uprooted his coffee trees but just neglected them and started farming maize between them. But with the revival of the industry, he returned to tending his 500 trees and is preparing to add 1,000.

Yatich and Jeptoo said the construction of a coffee mill in the county has been a game changer. Farmers are able to get correct grades of their coffee berries as compared to the time they were selling to other millers.

The two were among a group of farmers in 14 cooperative societies who earned from the sales made in the first shipment.

Yatich said in 2017, they sold over 600 bags of coffee to a private miller and they ended up with only nine bags of coffee being Grade AA. However, with the construction and commissioning of the Baringo Cha Coffee Mill at Katimok, farmers are beginning to realise the total value of their coffee and are getting higher earnings.

“Coffee farming from the way I see will be a big economic venture here in Baringo, thanks to the mill here,” he said.

The Sh100 million mill built by the county government in collaboration with World Best Friend from South Korea through the Investor Rev Cha Bo Yong has a machine with two lines that can mill both parchment and mbuni coffee beans.

The mill was commissioned on June 18, 2021.