New coffee variety gives hope to farmers

John Wanderi inspects coffee berries at his farm in Kairi village in Mathioya, Muranga County. JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • “I have three acres under Batian coffee. I once harvested 4,000kg of coffee berries, which I sold at Sh70 per kilogram, from the 2000 seedlings I planted in 2012,” says Wanderi.
  • David Maina, a manager at Gatunyu-Kigio Farmers Society Limited in Gatanga, says coffee prices are determined by the quality and volumes. Farmers are required to use fertiliser, fungicides and pesticides, foliar feeds and calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN).
  • Last July, the Murang’a county government approached individual farmers like Njeri, coffee societies, women and youth groups to grow Batian seedlings for free.

As the old adage goes, a wise man saves for the future. Three years ago, John Wanderi, a businessman from Kairi village in Mathioya, Murang’a County, embarked on his retirement plan.

He settled on a venture he was well acquainted with from childhood — coffee farming.

“I have seen families, including mine, educate their children from coffee proceeds,” says Wanderi.

In April 2012, two years after the Coffee Research Institute released the Batian coffee variety, Wanderi bought and planted 2,000 of the seedlings at Sh50 each. He later bought an additional 1,400 seedlings.

“I have three acres under Batian coffee. I once harvested 4,000kg of coffee berries, which I sold at Sh70 per kilogram, from the 2000 seedlings I planted in 2012,” says Wanderi.

According to the institute, 700,000 farmers are actively engaged in coffee production in Kenya, but the annual production has been fluctuating due to disease and socio-economic factors. 

Over the years, farmers relied on the Scott Laboratories (SL) coffee varieties that are now susceptible to diseases such as the coffee berry disease and coffee leaf rust. Coffee berry disease affects young berries and can cause 50 to 80 percent loss.

About 30 years ago, Ruiru 11 variety was introduced, but despite being resistant to the two diseases, it did not meet the aroma quality.
According to Wanderi, apart from the thrips insects, Batian is resistant to coffee berry and coffee leaf rust and is more productive.

QUALITY AND VOLUMES

David Maina, a manager at Gatunyu-Kigio Farmers Society Limited in Gatanga, says coffee prices are determined by the quality and volumes. Farmers are required to use fertiliser, fungicides and pesticides, foliar feeds and calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN).

Over time, farm inputs have become very expensive. “A 50kg bag of NPK 1717 compound fertiliser goes for Sh1,800 from the NCPB or Sh3,000 at the retailers,” he says. “A 50kg bag of CAN costs Sh1,500. Access to fungicides and pesticides is also a challenge for our farmers,” he says.

According to Dr Elija Gichuru, the Coffee Research Institute acting director, with the Batian variety, farmers need not worry about fungicides as the variety is resistant to CBD and leaf rust.

“Farmers save up to 30 percent of the production cost due to reduced chemical usage,” he says. “After five years, a tree of the Batian variety should produce at least 20kg of berries.”

Wanderi says in the three years he has planted Batian, he has not used any fungicides.

“I mix two 20kg gallons of manure with 150grams of Single Superphosphate in a 2x2 feet pit when planting,” says Wanderi.
After two years, the coffee only requires 150 grams of CAN during rainy seasons and manure throughout the year.

Rose Njeri, a coffee farmer in Gituamba village, in Gatanga, Muranga County, had given up on coffee farming after it was invaded by diseases and suffered low prices. She started intercropping it with maize and beans.

“I could not afford to buy pesticides that the coffee factory gave us on loan,” she says.

Last July, the Murang’a county government approached individual farmers like Njeri, coffee societies, women and youth groups to grow Batian seedlings for free.

“From the 10kg seedlings, I managed to produce 30,000 trees, which I grew in nurseries, and which I have already distributed to 25,000 to farmers at Sh6 per tree, paid for by the county government,” says Njeri.

Albert Mwaniki, the Muranga county minister for agriculture says the county targets to plant up to eight million new Batian seedlings by 2016.

The county has identified 99 youth and women groups whom they are supplying with basic infrastructure — river sands, seeds, shade nets, the tarpaulin, potting media and training on coffee production. “We want to raise the current production from 1 and 1/2kg per bush to 10kg per tree. So far we have planted over 1.5 million trees,” says Mwaniki.

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