Farm-level value addition will give coffee farmers good returns

In Kenya, coffee is produced in two main systems - the smallholder and the estates. The estates process their coffee into parchment while the smallholders join cooperative societies where the coffee is processed. 

This processing is what is referred to as the primary processing and is merely removing the fruity part of the coffee bean and drying it.

This is part of coffee value addition since it converts the perishable bean into a much more stable form that can be stored for a longer duration.

There is the belief that there is a need to add to the coffee to earn the farmer more. Value addition is considered to be milling, roasting, grinding, and packaging of the coffee that can be stocked in supermarkets. 

The roasted coffee earns the farmer a higher price than the parchment or clean coffee. 

The average coffee price at the auction on January 16, 2024 was around $4 per kilogramme. Given that seven kilogrammes of the coffee cherry (fruit) make one kilogramme of the clean/green coffee, then the farmer earned about Sh90 per kilo of cherry before production and marketing expenses are deducted.

If the farmer would roast this coffee a kilo would give him/her Sh1,200 at the local supermarket. Given that the roasting process lowers the weight by 20 per cent, then the kilo would give them Sh960.

Dividing this by seven to get the rate per kilogramme of cherry gives us Sh137. The farmer earns Sh47 per kilo higher than when the coffee is sold in the auction. This is beautiful.

Why is it that we are not doing this value addition? Many people have tried this. KPCU (Old KPCU) had its kahawa yetu brand of roasted coffee that didn’t go far. Several cooperative societies are also trying it but not massively. 

Kenya is not very good at consuming its coffee. We drink tea more than coffee and that is our culture.  Though not the highest in Africa or in the world, our preference for carbonated and fermented ‘OH’ beverages is much more prominent than our preference for coffee.

No wonder the companies involved in fermenting and distilling beverages are doing way better financially than our coffee cooperative societies.

This is our culture and culture doesn’t change in the short run. Roasting coffee for the local market will work well for a few roasters but not for our entire production. If we roast even 30 per cent for the local market, we will end up having it stored in our supermarkets stores for ages.

Though we are a tea drinking nation, we hardly consume more than five per cent of the tea we produce.

In a chemical reaction, we increase the limiting reactant to get more products. In coffee, what is limiting us more is our low-level production.

We may also improve our coffee consumption but this latter strategy will not benefit the farmer in the short run as it involves changing our culture.

With some of our cooperatives producing less than a kilo of cherry per tree, the coffee payments will remain poor. We need to add value to our farms to be competitive. There is no other alternative to this.

Currently, our estates produce an average of 510 kilogrammes of clean coffee per hectare while the cooperatives do 420 kilogrammes. The global average is 700 kilogrammes per hectare. Brazil has over 1,700 kilogrammes per hectare.

Our level of production can easily explain our consistent cries because of poor prices, poor farming community, very few youths in coffee, et cetera.

Value addition at the farm level will require having the right variety of coffee, proper husbandry, and other related interventions.

We have people and institutions to support this. If we increase the production per tree to above 15 kilos, then the above cries will form part of our forgotten history. 

The beauty is that if there is one appreciative thing, it is the coffee tree. Whatever you do to it is reciprocated very promptly. 

Give it a shilling in terms of soil amendments, pest and disease control it will give you more than two shillings during the harvest.

On the other side, the same thing is very unforgiving. Whatever negative thing you do to it punishes you with minimal delay in terms of low production, wilting and drying, low pay et cetera.

With farm value addition, we will avoid the punishment and ensure we get the best from the tree crop that we love.

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