Thursday, 16 February 2012

Coffee fortunes lure Kenyan growers

Kenya produces some of the world's finest coffee due to a favorable climate, geographical and soil conditions. The demand and prices for the Arabica variety grown in Kenya has sharply increased both in the domestic and international markets, due to adverse weather conditions in some top world coffee producing countries. The Arabica variety is reputable and fetches good prices for its high quality as it is used for blending coffee from other countries in the world. Farmers are currently earning an average of Sh60 per kilogram of cherry delivered to the factory. One well managed tree can produce up to 38 Kilograms of cherry according to an agriculture extensionist. 

This means with only 50 trees you can harvest 1,900 kilograms of cherry and earn Sh114, 000 per year. What a fortune for Kenyan smallholder farmers from the cherry! Time is ripe for youth to get involved in coffee agribusiness, which no longer requires many acres of land to earn a decent income. According to the commodity value chain players, the prices are likely to remain high in the world market for quite some time. The Ministry of agriculture and Coffee Board of Kenya projections shows that coffee export earnings will rise by 7 per cent year in the year 2012. Cherry Growers have responded to improved global prices by increasing investment in existing farms as well replanting to take advantage of the high prices.

The Government of Kenya in collaboration with the industry stakeholders on the other hand are determined to restore the sector until it regains its position of 1980s, as the main foreign exchange earner in the country by 2015.Fresh efforts have been launched to improve farm practices, increase annual cherry output, improve quality and offer better prices and incentives to the farmers. Last year the Ministry of Finance announced a bailout plan to write off Sh3.7 billion in debts before the end of the financial year. New industries rules have been have been established by Coffee Board of Kenya which allows the   Cooperatives to retain only 20% earnings from net coffee sales and pass the remainder to the farmers. Coffee was the chief foreign exchange earner in Kenya in 1980s. This was disrupted when farmers abandoned the golden crop as a result of mismanagement of Cooperatives, high cost of inputs, free market economy and lowered international prices.

The collapse of the industry adversely affected the livelihoods of many rural people who depended on the crop to educate their children and invest. This increased poverty and school dropout rates in the rural areas. With the current improvement of international prices a new problem of cherry and parchment theft has emerged. Picking of the cherry from other peoples farms at night is rampant as well stealing of the parchment from the factories. Some observers have attributed the recent wave of thefts to the mischievous millers and roasters who want to cash in on the lucrative prices. Security officials in collaboration with the community are doing everything possible to stop the cherry and parchment theft menace. However Coffee cherry and parchment theft is not peculiar to Kenya but has been experienced in some of the world’s leading producing countries.