In the 1980s, Kenya was at par with Ethiopia in terms of coffee production and at one point even produced more than its neighbour.
But today, things are different, with Ethiopia producing 700,000 metric tonnes of coffee, while Kenya averages 40,000 metric tonnes per year.
One of the biggest contributors to the declining coffee production in the country is the old age of farmers who find it hard to adapt to the latest technologies and best farming practices, leading to a high cost of production and low prices.
The Chairman of the Department of Agricultural Resource Management at the University of Embu Bernard Gichimu puts the average age of a coffee farmer in the country at 61.
“It’s a very underproductive age. To revitalise the coffee farming industry, there is a need to target and empower youths involved in coffee and those willing to adopt coffee farming,” he said.
It is against this backdrop that the university, the Coffee Connect Company, the Embu County Government and Rabobank recently partnered to train the youth in coffee farming.
Dr Gichimu, who is also a coffee research and breeder, said the training programme covered all aspects of the coffee value chain from propagation and nursery management, coffee husbandry, fertiliser application, canopy management like pruning, pests and disease management, soil analysis and coffee processing.
Beneficiaries of the programme were also trained in coffee value addition, which involves coffee grading, roasting, brewing and packaging.
They used coffee farms at the university as demonstration fields. They also visited the Kavutiri Coffee Mill, where they learnt about processing and value addition. Marion Wanjiku, one of the 55 youths who received certificates after the two-month training, said she would use the knowledge gained in transforming her parents’ two-acre farm.
“For two months, l have learnt the best and latest ways to prepare a nursery, transplanting, managing pests and diseases and coffee growing as a business,” she said. Wanjiku said knowledge of the entire coffee value chain has equipped her with the knowledge to help her parents benefit fully from the crop, including how to avoid exploitation from brokers.
James Mwangi, another beneficiary lauded the training, saying he had learnt a lot about value addition.
“I can brew and showcase it to thousands of locals who will hopefully now take more coffee. All l need is to create awareness on consuming locally made coffee,” he said. Despite coffee being one of the most expensive beverages and the second most traded commodity in the world after oil, smallholder farmers remain poor because their profits are taken by other people in the value chain.
Duncan Busuru, head of marketing and corporate affairs at Connect Coffee Company, said in a country where a majority of the youth are unemployed, the coffee sector provides limitless opportunities.
He said there are numerous opportunities in value addition, and the partnership would help farmers get the most out of the crop.
“Our support is through capacity building, training on good agricultural practices, including timely input, choosing the right seedlings and how to reduce post-harvest losses. We also help them improve the processing facilities because we realise the quality reduces at the handling stage,” he said.
Busuru said as part of the company’s efforts to lure the youth into the coffee sector, it also does barrister training, an area that is yet to gain traction in the country.
“Youths can become coffee roasters, barristers (people trained to understand coffee profiles and can extract, make and serve different coffee beverages) and coffee marketers,” said Busuru.
He said the partnership has the potential of transforming coffee farming in the region.
Meanwhile, Dr Gichimu said another factor that has stifled growth of the sector is the low consumption of coffee in the country, which stood at about 200g per person annually. This is compared to other major coffee producers such as Colombia where one person consumes 11kg per year.
“Ethiopians are consuming local coffee better than us. Out of the 700,000 metric tonnes they produce, they consume 300,000 metric tonnes locally and export 400,000 metric tonnes, while Kenya consumes three per cent,” he said.
Robobank Kenya Office Representative Elizabeth Kiarie said they are always looking for opportunities to involve and finance women and the youth in the coffee value chain.
“Involving the youth is always important because they are the future and very vibrant, full of energy, new ideas and innovations,” she said.
Ms Kiarie challenged beneficiaries of the training programme to venture into new areas of the coffee value chain.