It's not all doom and gloom as coffee farmers share victories

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. [DPCS]

As the Coffee Summit, presided over by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, concluded on Saturday in Meru, Charles Mutwiri, a coffee farmer from Mukarimu Coffee Estate, emerged with a renewed sense of optimism.

Mutwiri had the opportunity to share his secrets to success in coffee farming during the event. Gachagua visited one of Mutwiri's farms in Kaing'inyo, North Imenti, to witness firsthand how he efficiently manages his crop.

Mutwiri primarily cultivates the improved SL28 coffee variety and enjoys substantial annual yields worth millions of shillings. "Despite the presence of cartels, there is money to be made in coffee," he said. "One acre of land can produce 25,000kg, with each coffee tree yielding 50kg."

He further explained that if the price per kilo is set at a reasonable rate of Sh100, an individual can earn a minimum of Sh2.5 million from just one acre of coffee. Mutwiri's success story serves as an inspiration to other farmers. He emphasised the importance of pursuing increased production, even when faced with lower prices, as it still translates to significant income.

"With Gachagua's determined fight against the cartels, which I am confident he will succeed in, let us all strive to enhance coffee production," Mutwiri said.

He and other farmers are actively encouraging more young people to engage in coffee farming as a means of increasing production and creating employment opportunities.

The challenges of an ageing farmer population and low production have become apparent in Meru, prompting actions to attract youth and women to coffee farming. The Katheri Farmers Cooperative Society and Mukarimu Coffee Estate are at the forefront of efforts to involve young people and women in the industry.

Mutwiri, one of the largest coffee farmers in Meru county, possesses over 20,000 coffee trees. Drawing on his decades of successful coffee cultivation experience, Mutwiri aims to inspire young individuals to enter the field.

He not only provides free seedlings to youth but also imparts knowledge on effective crop management practices.

Mutwiri's journey began in 1976 when his father gifted him 150 trees at the age of 17. Today, he manages coffee farms in Nthimbiri, Thuura, South Imenti, and other areas. With a seasonal harvest of up to 150,000kg, Mutwiri affirms the profitability of coffee farming.

He stresses the importance of creating platforms for farmers to voice their concerns and hopes to see improved markets and timely payments.

Many farmers lack awareness of best practices, often obtaining only two kilos of coffee per tree. However, Mutwiri belongs to a group of 20 farmers who achieve yields ranging from 20kg to 100kg per tree, thanks to their knowledge of proper planting techniques and the cultivation of improved coffee varieties like SL28 and SL34.

Farm inputs

Ayub Bundi, a prominent coffee farmer with 12,600 coffee bushes and also serving as the Meru Assembly Speaker, calls for separate treatment of coffee farmers by the government regarding farm inputs.

Bundi highlights the need for further empowerment of the New Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (New KPCU), emphasising the negative impact of middlemen in the sector and advocating for their elimination to maximise benefits for farmers.

While some coffee farmers are divided between Meru Coffee Millers and New KPCU Mills, many embrace the latter due to its status as a government entity.

Bundi commends the positive performance of New KPCU in Meru and underscores the desire for exclusive access to subsidized inputs, independent of other farmers. He reiterates the farmers' call for the removal of brokers from the coffee supply chain.

Bundi himself started coffee farming in 2018 and expanded his operations in 2021. To preserve the quality of his coffee, he avoids mixing it with coffee from other farmers. Additionally, he has established his own factory for value addition, carrying out activities such as pulping to enhance the value of his produce.

"When I received the licence for my factory, I was specifically instructed not to handle coffee from other sources," he said.

The inclusion of more women in coffee production has contributed to increased output at Kathera Cooperative. In collaboration with GIZ Coffee Innovation Fund, the society launched an initiative to attract youth and women to the sector.

The fund, along with One Africa Advisory and Eva's Coffee Kenya, provided training to hundreds of youth in Kathera.

Patrick Mburugu, the society's treasurer, said aging parents aspire for their children to pursue coffee farming to ensure its sustainability. Mburugu expressed their reliance on the youth to actively participate in coffee production, saying, "Parents and youth are eager to collaborate in farming. Our strength is diminishing, but our children have agreed to be our partners in coffee farming."

Parents have consented to allocate some coffee trees to the youth, thereby boosting production. The society has pledged to support the youth, including financial assistance. Mburugu emphasised the abundance of job opportunities in the coffee industry, both on farms and in transportation.

A recent graduate in Public Policy and Administration, who had been job hunting since graduating in 2021, has now redirected his focus toward nurturing his coffee trees.

"With the training we received on coffee cultivation, I am confident I can obtain 3,000kg of high-quality coffee from my 100 bushes," he said.

Eva Muthuri, representing Eva's Coffee Africa, a coffee exporter, highlighted their innovative approaches to engage the youth in coffee farming. "We recognise that the youth face challenges such as land ownership, financial constraints, as well as a lack of skills and interest," she said.

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