James Kariuki at his coffee plantation in Kibugu area of Embu North.


When James Kariuki talked about his coffee farming achievements during a show on a popular radio station, many doubted his assertions that he harvests 100kgs of co­ffee from a single tree.

However, a visit to his farm in co­ffee growing belt of Kibugu area of Embu North sub-county verifies his claim and opens up a visitor’s mind to the potential in a well-managed co­ffee tree to bring one more income than any other crop in Kenya.

Kariuki who hosts farmers from different parts of the country in his farm every Monday has a wealth of knowledge on co­ffee growing matters right from tending seedlings, choosing the best variety for a certain agronomical zone and managing co­ffee to yield abundantly.

“When I tell you that co­ffee is gold, believe me as I am speaking from experience and I am a witness to it,” he says. Kariuki has adopted the single stem system of co­ffee growing, which is a departure from the tendency by farmers to traditionally allow two stems per tree. He avers that whereas other farmers know how to feed and take care of their co­ffee properly, they fail to realise that a single co­ffee tree’s taproots cannot adequately feed two stems to produce to the maximum.

He explains that with two stems there is competition for nutrients resulting in lower production. Kariuki allows 50 branches in a stem. Each branch has an average of 30 nodes while the node of a well-fed stem carries 30 berries.

He says from a single stem, a farmer can harvest 45,000 berries, which would translate to about 150kgs. 300 berries make a kilogram. Kariuki and this writer did the calculations to verify his claim.

“Factoring that other circumstances may limit such ideal productivity, a farmer can thus get 100kgs,” says Kariuki who gets about 120kgs from a tree.

If Kariuki is able to sell co­ffee at just Sh100 per kilogram, he would earn Sh12,000 from a single co­ffee tree. Cost of production is about Sh1,000. Kariuki has 2,000 co­ffee trees, the majority of them have already attained co­ffee producing stage.

Previously he had been selling to Kibugu Cooperative Society until last year when a Community Based Organisation (CBO) where he is a member established a co­ffee mill.

Their CBO, Mt Kenya Co­ffee Organic Farmers, was assisted by a Kenyan co­ffee marketer to secure a buyer, Tim Wedabore, from Norway who o­ffered to buy them at $12 (Sh1,200) per kilo of milled co­ffee.

“The buyer was apathetic that Kenyan farmers have been exploited along the value and marketing chain. The buyer promised to o­ffer us not less than Sh1000 per kilo,” he says.

He says 4kgs of their unprocessed co­ffee produces 1kg of milled co­ffee unlike that from cooperatives who only manage a ratio of 7:1.

Kariuki reveals that the marketer only delivered 13 bags to Tim who paid immediately.

However, according to Kariuki, the marketer reneged on their agreement and delivered the rest of the coffee to a di­fferent roaster who has only paid partially, and below what they agreed on.

“We feel cheated and have already lodged a complaint at the co­ffee directorate. We plan to move to court. Even Tim was unhappy in the way the marketer treated us. We have made a deal to sell directly to Tim. We are pursuing a license from the government to enable us to sell our milled co­ffee,” said Kariuki.  

Mt Kenya Organic Co­ffee Farmers, works closely with Co­ffee Research Foundation and agronomists to help members realise high productivity in their farms. They have co­ffee nurseries and a demonstrations farm with 14 co­ffee varieties where they train farmers.

During this year’s show at Njukiri, Embu Governor Martin Wambora appreciated the organisation for helping raise co­ffee productivity.

Best crop variety

Kariuki says to achieve high production, one should choose the best variety for the area. For Kibugu, he says SL28 variety thrives, is resistant to diseases but vulnerable to phosphorus deficiency. SL34 has the opposite characteristics as it is not vulnerable to phosphorus deficiency, but is more prone to diseases.

Batian and Ruiru are the other varieties grown in Kibugu. According to Kariuki, whereas SL is able to attain 100kgs, at optimum yield Ruiru manages just 30kgs.

“After establishing the right variety, I begin by digging holes measuring 3X2ft and observing spacing of 9X9ft. I then place dry leaves on the bottom of the hole to a layer of about six inches. This ensures the base is soft enough for the coffee roots to penetrate,” he explains.

Afterward, the farmer adds topsoil until only six inches of the hole is not covered. He then adds manure mixed with topsoil up to the top of the hole and then waits until it rains and plants his seedlings. Kariuki says since at that stage the young plant cannot feed with the roots, a farmer should apply foliar feeds.

“You should spray for the first time after 14 days, then 21 days, then 28 days and then after every month,” he says adding that after one year, the co­ffee should be flowering.

His spraying program starts in September when he controls bacterial blight. In November he sprays for leaf rust, in February, bacterial blight and March to June co­ffee berry diseases.

“One-year-old co­ffee should give a farmer three to 4kgs, while two to three-year-old co­ffee should give 40 to 60kgs per year per stem. Four to five years should give a minimum of 100kgs per year,” he says.

He adds that good canopy management should be carried out to achieve good results. Kariuki who attended County Primary School near Embu town says his passion for co­ffee farming sprang up in his childhood when during school holidays he used to visit his uncle who was a serious co­ffee farmer.

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