Mathew Ng’ang’a’s seedlings farm in Murang’a, central Kenya, is a beehive of activity as many farmers stay there in search of various plants that include grapes, tangerines, avocados and macadamia.
One plant which, however, holds a special place on the farm is coffee, which Ng’ang’a has place under a huge tree for the seedlings.
He has grafted hundreds of the coffee seedlings of the new variety of Ruiru II crop that he sells to farmers at 50 shillings (about 0.50 dollars each).
It is this new variety of the crop that is carrying the hopes of Kenyan coffee producers, who are desperately seeking to boost their production to shore up fortunes from the crop.
Kenya’s coffee production has declined over the years troubled by low global prices that have affected local earnings, fluctuating weather as a result of climate change and diseases and pests.
These challenges have conspired to wreak havoc in the industry, making a number of farmers in Kenya uproot their coffee bushes to grow avocados and macadamia or sell the land to real estate developers.
According to the forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Kenya’s coffee production will hit its lowest since independence to 650,000 bags of 60 kilograms in 2019/20.
To mitigate some of the climatic challenges, Kenyan scientists developed the new variety of coffee, which farmers like Ng’ang’a are mass-producing for easy reach to growers. The new variety is high-yielding and resistant to a majority of common diseases like leaf rust and pests, notes Kenya’s Coffee Research Institute.
“I started grafting the coffee seedlings almost two years ago and I sell them to farmers across Kenya,” he said in a recent interview.
One of his biggest market is western Kenya, where farmers are embracing the crop after ditching sugarcane, whose production has collapsed.
“In central Kenya, some farmers are uprooting their crops because of low production and turning to other ventures but it is because their coffee bushes of the older varieties are too old,” he said.
Ng’ang’a, however, noted that he still has market in the region as optimistic farmers plant new crops.
“I graft the seedlings using the older and new variety. The former, SL 28 has deeper roots and the latter makes the scion that is high-yielding,” said the farmer.
The new variety offers up to 30 percent more in yields, with each tree producing some 25kg of berries in a year.
Beatrice Waithaka, a farmer in Murang’a, is among optimistic growers who have embraced the new coffee variety.
She has been replacing her older variety over the years and she hopes to conclude the exercise end of this year.
With farming taking up the new variety and the government instituting several interventions, the future looks brighter for coffee farmers in Kenya.
President Uhuru Kenyatta in January announced the establishment of 30 million dollars Coffee Cherry Fund as part of efforts to revive the sector.
Farmers would be advanced loans to boost production of the crop and be cushioned from middlemen who pay them below market price.
While Kenya’s coffee remains one of the best in the world, dwindling production has seen countries like Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda challenge its status as a top coffee producer in Africa. Enditem