Lack of interest in coffee farming by youth threatens sector

Coffee subsector implementation committee chairman Joseph Kieya at the international coffee festival in Nairobi. [George Njunge, Standard]

Farmers have urged the government to fast-track the implementation of ongoing reforms in the coffee sector.

Speaking to The Standard after the 1st Kenyan international coffee festival in Nairobi on Thursday, the farmers said if completed, the reforms will make coffee farming an attractive venture for the youth.

They warned that lack of interest in the sector among the youth is not good for the country’s economic growth, coffee being a major source of foreign revenue to the country.

Joseph Kieyah– Presidential task force on coffee sector reforms Chairman– said there was a general gradual reduction in coffee farming in the country.

"Youth participation is one of the key eight pillars in our recommendations in the ongoing coffee reforms," said Prof Keiyah.

"We are in different stages of the eight pillars, but the bedrock is the legal reforms which have triggered some of the remarkable things you are seeing. The reason behind this meeting is youth participation in the sector," added Kieyah.

He said the youth must be involved in the sector to ensure sustainability, adding that the average age of a coffee farmer is about 60.

They, however, praised reforms instituted by the sector implementation committee that was formed by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

President Kenyatta appointed the task force in March 2016 to review the entire coffee chain and identify areas that require interventions such as production, processing and marketing.

Coffee farmers from Murang'a, Embu, Tharaka Nithi, Meru and Kirinyaga hailed the gains brought by the reforms.

Kieya noted that it was painful that the farmers, who grow one of the best coffee in the world, cannot afford it.

“We want the Kenyan farmer not to just wear gumboots on the farm; we want the farmer to also enjoy the coffee that they toil to produce. This will be achieved by having the farmer enjoy good proceedings of their coffee,” said Mr Kieya.

He urged farmers to take advantage of Kenya's favourable geographical conditions that make the country produce high-quality coffee.

“We want farmers to control their produce. We want the many brokers and licenses to trade and produce coffee thrown away to bring the farmers closer to the negotiation table.”

Susan Mugure from Digital Tolls for Agriculture said coffee is not an elites drink that cannot be afforded by farmers who grow it.

“We want to know why Ethiopia's farmers drink their coffee more than we drink ours. We want the farmer to have good returns that will enable them buy coffee and forget the traditional misery of producing coffee,” she said.

Peter Njogu from Gatanga, Murang'a, said many had given up on coffee farming as it was not paying.

“We would hardly afford good life, education for our children and general upkeep even as we owned acres of coffee plantation with thousands of trees. We appreciate the reforms that have seen us enjoy our work because of good returns,” he said.