While some farmers have written off coffee and even uprooted it, one man is making a kill from the famous black gold of East Africa. Mr Henry Kinyua has over 5,000 coffee trees at his farm in Mariene, in Meru Central.
“I started this in 2006 and I have no regrets. What I get from this crop sustains my family and I. Coffee is more profitable than other crops,” he says.
He says he and several big farmers produce the AB, PB and AA grades. “They are the best and fetch the best prices. We have the biggest berries and they earn us good money,” he says.
Although coffee prices have been plummeting over the years, the farmer has stuck to it. “Many farmers are giving up, but not me. I know there is hope,” the Mount Kenya University graduate says with optimism.
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In mid 1990s, coffee prices went on a downward fall at the international markets because of various factors. For this harsh reality, many farmers in Meru County uprooted their trees and opted to grow food crops. He says his best years are 2009 to 2011, when a kilo of coffee was selling at between Sh80 and Sh90.
On his seven-acre farm, Kinyua grows various varieties of coffee that do well in medium altitude.
“I plant several coffee varieties, but my specialty is Ruiru 11 which is more resistant to disease. When cared for properly, the Ruiru 11 produces very healthy beans. I can harvest up to 35kg from one tree. This is quite high given the fact that the average tree can produce 10 kilos per tree,” says the farmer.
On average, Kinyua harvests 18,000 kilos per season from all his trees which he sells to Sasini Millers and Thika Millers. He sells a kilo at Sh40 per kg.
For a bumper harvest, that fetches good money, Kinyua says you must follow the ‘coffee calendar’ strictly. He explains that this calendar runs from January to December.
“In line with the calendar, the first process is to induce flowering and spray the trees with foliar fertiliser in January and February when it is dry because the trees feed through leaves, not roots. Next step is to spray the plants with copper, in May,” he shares his secret weapon.
In July, he says, it is time to start pruning, which goes on until August and September. Liming the soil and tilling the land also takes place in August.
“In mid to late October, it is time to apply nitrogen fertiliser. December is when you have the first crop. We are also looking forward to a bumper harvest this December,” says Kinyua.
Interestingly, after seeing his success, coupled with the fact that prices are now picking up, some coffee farmers are slowly warming up to it. “I didn’t uproot my coffee. I persisted in the face of low prices even after suffering big losses. I believe winners don’t quit,” says Kinyua.
With the proceeds from his farm, Kinyua has also gone back to school for a business management degree, “because I feel I need to improve on my business acumen.”
Promising at it maybe, the farmer admits that coffee farming has myriad challenges.
For instance, it takes ten lorries of manure and farm chemicals to feed one block of coffee trees. That can cost up to Sh300,000.
“And manure should not be applied on top but should be put inside the soil, so that it is not washed away through soil erosion,” he warns.
As a way of giving back to the community, Kinyua has started a consultancy firm on coffee farming, where interested farmers get tips from him, at a small fee.
“If you are getting 2 kilos per tree you should be worried, but if you can get 15 kgs per tree, you are in safe territory. That difference is brought about by good husbandry of which I am an ‘expert’. That is why I am starting a consultancy, to educate coffee farmers on best practices. I want them to achieve the success I have, and earn good profits like I do,” says Kinyua, who is pursuing his masters in Marketing at Mt Kenya University.