Coffee sector records mixed performance amid reforms

Coffee farm

A farmer tends to her coffee in Nyeri town on October 25, 2022.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The highest national production since independence was 128,862 tonnes in the 1987/1988 season.
  • Coffee farmers welcomed the government’s move to scale up reforms and development in the sub-sector.

The coffee sub-sector recorded a mixed performance amid government reforms to boost the crop.

While the land under coffee increased from 109,385 hectares in 2021/2022 to 111,709 hectares in 2023, a 2.1 per cent rise, production has dipped, according to the Agriculture and Food Authority.

Statistics from the National Coffee Directorate indicate that in the 2022/23 season, Kenya exported 47,861 tonnes valued at Sh36.6 billion (US$251.86 million).

The co-operative sector produced 34.5 tonnes of the cherries, estate sector (14.2 tonnes), with the total production being 48.7 tonnes, a reduction from 51,853 tonnes the previous season.

The 6.1 per cent drop was attributed to adverse weather in central and eastern regions and bi-annual cyclic nature of production.

Coffee from Kenya is of the ‘Colombia Mild’ type which is known for its intense flavour, full body, and pleasant aroma with notes of cocoa.

A report done by AFA-Coffee directorate acting director Benson Apuoyo noted that the average prices of the Colombian Milds have consistently been higher than the Kenyan Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) average prices since the start of the 2023/24 season.

The NCE price was lower than the Colombian Milds price by seven per cent in January.

“This was, however, by a lower proportion as compared to the previous months of December and November,” he said.

In 2021/2022, the USA was ranked as the top most destination for Kenyan coffee at 18.9 per cent, followed by Belgium (18.9pc), Germany (14.2pc), South Korea (10.2pc), Sweden (5.1pc), Tunisia (3.4pc), Australia (3.0pc), Denmark (3.0pc) and Norway (2.9pc). Other 39 destinations took 20.4 per cent of the export volumes.

Kenya ranked 17th in world coffee production in the 2022/23 coffee year, with a market share of 0.43 per cent and a corresponding volume of 724,610 (60kg) bags. 

A total of 47,861.85 tonnes was exported in the 2022/23 season valued at US$251.86 million.

The top five destinations were USA (23.46 per cent), Germany (17.38pc), Belgium (10.50pc), Sweden (8.62pc) and South Korea (6.52pc).

Combined, the top five countries had a market share of 66.5 per cent of the total exports.

Exports to African countries amounted to less than one per cent of the total exports, with the largest African destination being South Africa, where a total of 270,660kg were exported.

South Africa had a share of 0.57 per cent of the total exports. Combined, the total volumes to the African destinations was 289,151.52kg and these included exports to Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda and The Gambia.

In terms of pure Arabica production, in 2022/2023, Kenya ranked 15th worldwide with a market share of 0.82 per cent while also recording a reduction in production by four per cent.

In 2023/2024, however, Kenya’s production is expected to record positive growth partly due to the bi-annual effect and the reforms being implemented by the government, the AFA report said.

The coffee exports have for the years 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 held at a volume within the 40,000 tonnes and almost attained the US$300 million mark.

In overall, the export volumes have been on an upward trajectory, with Kenya increasing her trade linkages and forming partnerships with countries across the world.

Coffee is grown in 33 counties in Central and Nairobi, North Rift, Central South Rift, Lower Eastern, Western and Nyanza regions.

It is estimated the country has 1.2 million coffee growers, 625 societies, 2,750 estates and 1,228 factories. 

The highest national production since independence was 128,862 tonnes in the 1987/1988 season.

The harvests declined by nearly 64 per cent to a national average of 45,000 tonnes before increasing dramatically to 51,853 tonnes in 2021/2022.

A high-powered delegation from Colombia that visited Kenyan farmers this week pushed for an increase of coffee trees per hectare for local growers to increase production and earn more profits.

Coffee farmers welcomed the government’s move to scale up reforms and development in the sub-sector.

The farmers, together with members of the visiting Colombia National Federation of Coffee Growers, on Wednesday toured the Coffee Research Institute (CRI) in Ruiru, Kiambu County, for a day-long familiarisation visit on farming practices for the crop.

On Tuesday, the team toured farmers in Nyeri County.

“The joint training will benefit local farmers in their work. We urge the government to sustain the reforms because, soon, production will increase and farmers will get money in their pockets fostering the rural economy. In the one year the reforms have been ongoing, the sub-sector has changed positively,” said Mr Francis Ngone, the chairperson of the National Coffee Cooperative Federation of Kenya.

On the Kenya-Colombia partnership in the coffee value chain, Mr Ngone said: “Colombia has a coffee growing model which we should adopt. Kenyan farmers visited Colombia last year and learnt from them.”

He commended Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua over his leadership in the coffee sub-sector reforms. 

The farmers called for closer collaboration between coffee researchers in Kenya and Colombia.

“Farmers’ aspiration is that the Coffee Research Institute is revived fully and funded to execute its duty in research,” Mr John Mutwiri said.

Mr Hector Santos Galvis, a board member of Colombia National Federation of Coffee Growers, said Kenya and Colombia farmers share various farming practices and collaboration can lead to increased production of coffee beans.

“To scientists and researchers at the Coffee Research Institute and farmers, we can do much together to address coffee diseases, climate change, use new technologies and genetic trapping. We share a lot. Like you, in Colombia we have three harvesting seasons depending on the rain patterns,” said Mr Galvis.

“We came here to learn from you and share knowledge,” he stated.

Eliud Kiplimo Kireger, the Director-General of the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), said Kenya coffee industry is facing several challenges, such as climate change, price volatility and high cost of production. 

“We are addressing these challenges through research by developing appropriate technologies and recommendations to mitigate. This forum enables us to review and cross-match our activities to those of a peer country — Colombia. Indeed, Kenya and Colombia share a lot in the coffee industry including approach to research, which makes collaboration between the two countries desirable,” Prof Kireger said.

In a speech read on his behalf by Dr Zachary Kinyua, a director at KALRO, Prof Kireger called for continued support of research to continuously improve coffee production and quality.