While most coffee estates in and around Kiambu County have over the last two decades disappeared to pave way for real estate, a few are still standing.
In coming years, more might give way to the high-rise apartments coming up as Nairobi’s seams burst from increasing number of people working in the capital but residing in neighbouring counties, which form the larger Nairobi Metropolitan Area.
This is especially as the coffee industry continues to face major hurdles and help appears not to be forthcoming.
One coffee estate, however, thinks it can fend off the real estate money, with the owners saying that if they keep innovating around coffee, they will continue getting handsome returns.
The Fairview Coffee Estate earns more than many other farms in the country as it has managed to sell its coffee directly to major world buyers.
It recently started offering what it calls coffee tours, a fusion of agriculture and tourism, where it takes visitors through the coffee making process.
In future, Fairview plans to develop a coffee theme park within the 100-acre estate.
To bypass the middlemen at the coffee auction and sell directly to buyers in different markets, the farm sought certification for its coffee. When selling directly to buyers such as Starbucks, it can make double the amount that the same would fetch at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange.
Earlier in the year, coffee was selling at about Sh450 per kilogramme, which would mean the same when sold directly to buyers can fetch Sh800. The average price came down to Sh232 per kilo in September.
“Our focus over the years has been coffee production. Over time the prices were good and stable but different factors have led to deterioration in pricing such as new entrants into the coffee industry, including Vietnam,” Fairview Estate Director Michael Warui told Weekend Business.
“Ten years ago we decided to look at what we could do to increase our earnings and the first step towards value addition was certifying our coffee so that we are able to sell it directly to overseas markets.
“Coffee from our estate is certified by Utz, Global Coffee Platform, Rainforest Alliance and Starbucks. This allows us to sell our coffee to main buyers overseas.”
Selling directly enables the farm to double the value of its top grades. “If we were to sell at the local coffee auction, we would sell at about $4 (Sh400) but if we sell it directly to international buyers, we get double the amount,” said Mr Warui.
The estate sells as much as 90 per cent of its coffee directly to the buyers but this also depends on the season. This year, Warui said, the quality has been compromised by the weather patterns and resulted in lower sales to the major coffee buyers.
Inadequate rains earlier this year that hurt the quality as well as over-production by other coffee growing countries has seen the price drop by about 50 per cent to Sh450 in January to Sh232 in September.
The 110-year-old estate has in recent past started hosting tourists for coffee tours, a move it expects will help it increase earnings.
Warui said once they are able to attract enough visitors, the firm will develop a theme park to enable the guests experience more coffee-related activities.
“With the coffee tours, we are doing something similar to what South Africa’s Cape Town and Stellenbosch do with the wine industry. We take visitors and give them an experiential tour of what it entails to produce coffee from the farm level to processing and finally how it should be prepared and served,” he said.
“Our vision is to grow to 70,000 visitors annually and when we secure that number, we will explore other businesses such as a coffee theme park.”