Vibrant reforms that have been implemented in Kenya’s coffee sector have encouraged smallholders to cultivate the cash crop with renewed vigor.
Though some smallholder farmers had in the recent past abandoned coffee growing citing mismanagement of cooperative marketing societies, a raft of reforms that have allowed direct marketing of the commodity have encouraged farmers to cultivate the crop with gusto.
At least three farmers from Kirinyaga and Embu counties in the coffee growing central region of Kenya are minting millions of shillings as farmers, roasters and exporters, hence inspiring more farmers to take up the crop.
Nothing differentiates Kithinji Kabiru from any other small-scale coffee farmer, until one step into his farm at Kibugu, in Embu County in eastern Kenya where he grows 5,000 steps of the coffee variety of Ruiru 11 and SL.
While on average, a good farmer will harvest about 10kg of coffee per stem annually, as for Kabiru, some of his stems give him up to 30kg in the same period.
Kabiru has a passion for coffee and this comes in handy as he is able to farm it as a hobby and give it the best attention and in return, it rewards him handsomely.
At an average of 20kg per stem per year, he is able to harvest about 100,000 kilograms of coffee per year. At an average payment of 1 U.S. dollar per kg, he is able to earn a gross income of some 100,000 dollars from his 5,000 stems.
Kabiru harvests and pulps his own coffee then takes it for milling. This ensures that the quality of his coffee is not compromised and this is how he has been able to attract buyers from the United States.
“The key to high-quality coffee and bumper harvest from every stem is to nourish the crop through application of manure and timely weeding. When coffee is well fed, the stems do not shed leaves even in dry season, providing cover for the seeds and ensuring they are of high quality, Kabiru told Xinhua in a recent interview at his farm.
Gibsons Coffee House is a growing brand of restaurants anchored on coffee. Matthew Mugo is the man behind the concept. It’s a family business and a continuity of his father’s heritage as a passionate coffee farmer.
In the supermarkets, you will also find Gibsons Coffee of various grades packaged to international standards.
Currently, Mugo farms about 120 acres of coffee, scattered in Kirinyaga and Kiambu counties. He has leased at least half of the land and owns the other half.
“I grew up loving coffee. My father was a coffee farmer and he gifted me four acres of the crop. It is a passion for the coffee that has enabled us to grow where we are today,” he said.
His knowledge and interest in coffee helped him stick with the crop despite the negativity associated with it.
“I knew coffee had money from the word go because it used to sustain many families. Sadly, rampant corruption in the coffee cooperatives societies made farmers lose hope in the crop,” Mugo said.
He revealed that his breakthrough came in mid-1980s when pulping was liberalized and farmers with a minimum of five acres of land could pulp their own coffee, dry it and take it to the millers and auction, cutting off cooperatives and brokers.
“Through this, we were able to avoid the mismanagement of the cooperatives enabling us to make better money,” said Mugo.
It then became a family affair. “We realized that if we did larger quantities, we would earn even more money and therefore we joined as a family to pulp and sell our coffee together,” he said.
In 2003, Mugo started roasting and packaging coffee. He started the coffee restaurants in 2010.
Today, he roasts about 10 tons a month. He is also exporting to the U.S. mostly to micro-roasters who are interested in coffee that can be traced back to the farmer as they maintain their niche because of high-quality coffee they roast.
“Our next step is to provide coffee products for the kadogo economy (lower income group),” Mugo said.
“Consumption of coffee in the local market is still low, at an estimated three percent of total production. But with high-quality coffee such as the one roasted by Gibsons Coffee, local consumption is likely to start increasing,” he added.
Youthful Peter Muchiri, the CEO of Rockbern Coffee Exporters, represents the new generation of coffee investors.
His company has set up a coffee roasting and packaging factory in Ruiru at a cost of 3 million dollars. It will include a school to train baristas. A barista is a person who prepares and serves coffee drinks.
Their shortage is partly attributed to poor coffee drinking culture in Kenya because not many people know how to prepare the beverage.
Muchiri is pursuing other non-traditional markets for Kenyan coffee, like the Middle East and consider the venture as both sustainable and lucrative.
He started the company seven years ago, with his wife Bernice and have now attracted a private equity partner who is helping the multi-million Ruiru processing plant. Enditem