If you want to improve your crop yields, you employ techniques that help you achieve that goal. That is what only a few coffee farmers in Machakos County have realised. They are now using tree shading method to protect their crop from direct sun.
The technology, a partnership between a Swedish firm We-Effect and Machakos Co-operative Union, was launched in Matungulu location in 2013 to mitigate effects of scorching sun.
The main focus of the project was to provide farmers with a favourable environment for coffee. By growing the crop under a tree shade, the farmers are guaranteed enough manure, evergreen crops throughout the season and high quality crop.
Mukonyo Malua, 80, who has been a small scale coffee farmer for the last 50 years, has embraced this method and talks well about it.
“For the last 30 years or so, rainfall in this area came from the hills but not any more. People have interfered with forests by cutting down trees, and by so doing they have interfered with the regular water patterns. The problem has further been compounded by climate change which has led to erratic weather patterns not favourable for coffee production,” he says.
Malua says she has planted several shading trees in her coffee farm to shield her coffee from direct sunlight.
She says, she will keep on planting more because they offer a shade to coffee bushes while at the same time when the tree sheds its leaves, they serve as manure.
“The coffee bushes under the shading trees are evergreen. The shading trees leaves are big and withers quickly, falling down to the soil making it moist and fertile. This makes coffee cherry production healthier fetching more weight and value,” Mukonyo says.
So what are other benefits of growing coffee under shades? Literature shows that coffee bushes grown under shade have a longer lifespan than those grown under lightly shaded or full-sun conditions.
Growing coffee under shade also raises the crop’s quality, meaning a higher price for farmers.
Defying the odds
Having used the method, Malua attests to this fact.
She says: “It is a reality that the climate that once favoured our coffee has turned against it. Rising temperatures have made coffee producing areas less suitable or completely unsuitable for coffee growing. Thus for us, with that harsh reality, the shading tree technology offers us hope for higher yields.”
Malua, together with her husband (now deceased) started their coffee farm with 300 coffee trees and to date her farm has 600 coffee trees. Malua is among the best coffee farmers under the Mwatati Co-operative Society.
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“This is a matter of sacrifice because land in this area is scarce due to increasing population and unfavourable climate,” Mukonyo says.
She continues: “Small scale coffee farming is no longer profitable here due to lack of enough rainfall and high production costs. Many farmers instead of adopting the shading plant technology are inter cropping coffee with either maize or beans for food which is disastrous.”
She says anything inter-cropped with coffee is a weed, making coffee to be affected by many diseases.
Malua urges the government to provide farmers with effective chemical sprays.
“There is the challenge of a caterpillar pest which invades coffee trees from the stem, branches and roots. It makes coffee trees to wither within a short time. This has lowered coffee production drastically,” she says.
Malua is of the view that farmers should be paid according to the inputs in order to sustain their families.
With the launch of Kenya Adaption to Climate Change in Arid and semi- Arid Lands project, in September, 2014, the once vibrant coffee growing areas which are now affected by climate change should be considered for coffee to reclaim its position as a major foreign exchange earner.