After having to grapple with depreciating coffee returns exacerbated by erratic weather patterns over the past three years, coffee farmers will be smiling all the way to the bank this year owing to a bumper harvest.
The previously problematic changes in the weather patterns have worked in the farmers’ favour, boosting the quality and quantity of coffee produced this season. This will translate into better export prices and more returns.
Coupled with the misfortunes of leading global producer Brazil, which has experienced harsh weather, a demand for the cash crop from alternative sources in the international market has favoured the Kenyan coffee farmer.
Previously, unpredictable weather patterns tampered with the coffee production cycle, throwing farmers and production off-balance.
Heavy rainfall and extreme cold saw coffee plantations experience delayed flowering, heavy infestation of coffee berry disease, leaf rust and bacteria blight, which affect the harvest.
This year, however, farmers are experiencing a bountiful harvest, following favourable weather patterns that were relatively cooler and warmer compared to previous coffee years.
“There is a lot of flowering in the coffee farms because the weather was warmer this year compared to last year, which was utterly cold, leading to diseases that affected production,” said Mr Charles Karinga, the chairman of Kiawamururu factory in Nyeri.
Proper flowering of coffee occurs when the crop has undergone maximum stress during the hot season, which is then followed by rainfall, for it to produce optimally.
In the farms, the crop has received the right amount of rainfall this year.
At Kiawamururu factory in Mukurwe-ini, farmers have harvested a total of 220,000 kilos compared to 50,000 last year — a 340 per cent increase.
“We grade our coffee in two; from our observation, we have a lot of premium grades, which will in turn earn farmers a higher pay,” said Mr Karinga.
This is replicated in other factories that have a bumper harvest this year, such as Ndaroini Coffee Growers Association, which had picked more than 800,000 kilos by October, compared to 350,000 last year.
The factory chairman, Mr Joseph Mukuha, said minimal rainfall favoured the crop because there were less diseases and pests.
“Good prices have also played a huge role in encouraging farmers back to their farms and to tend to their crop by observing proper crop husbandry,” he said.
Last year, though the production was low, farmers received more than Sh100 a kilo for their produce through direct sales in foreign markets and the Nairobi Coffee Exchange.
The crop got too much rain from the beginning of the picking season, which delayed flowering and consequently, picking.
Where farmers should have been picking their coffee from October, through to December, many started in December and continued until February.
Climate change also affected the time farmers are paid.
“Due to changing weather patterns, the coffee plantation was bearing fruits at different stages of maturity and at the same time flowering, which should not be the case,” said Mr Mukuha.
At the same time, due to the increased rain and cold, farmers were struggling to control pests and diseases.
60 million kilos
“We followed a certain calendar to know when to spray the crop, and using which chemical, but under the whole climate change phenomenon, controlling the pests is harder. The chemicals are not even available in factories,” said Mr Chrysagon Wang’ondu, a farmer in Tetu.
This year, the picking season started on time as farmers foresee they will conclude harvesting earlier than usual.
“We are almost finishing the picking season now. This was a good coffee year,” noted Mr Karinga.
The harsh weather conditions will see Brazil, which produces 60 million kilos of coffee annually, lose up to 20 per cent of its entire crop this season, which, in turn, will create a shortage in the world market.
Prices of Arabica coffee have gone up to a record high in seven years due to the poor weather in Brazil.
“This year we are hopeful that they will be paid more than Sh100 per kilogramme owing to the shortage of coffee created by the frost that attacked coffee in Brazil. Anyone who pays farmers less than that will have stolen from the farmers,” said Mr Karinga, who is also an agronomist.
Prices at the Nairobi auction are as high as $430 (Sh47,300) for a 60kg bag, which is likely to translate to around Sh120 per kilo of coffee for farmers.