Why Meru farmers are going back to coffee farming

Catherine Rubara who has gone back to coffee farming during an interview at her farm on October 22, 2021.

Photo credit: David Muchui | Nation Media Group

In the early 2000s, Ms Catherine Rubara, from Thuura in Imenti North, Meru County, cut down her family’s 300 coffee bushes amid

dwindling returns.
“Our education was funded by proceeds from coffee. We inherited the crop from our parents but the sector collapsed. Frustrated, we hired a power saw and cleared the entire farm of coffee trees. There was no money in the coffee,” Ms Rubara recounted.

For years, the Thuura area was a top coffee-producing area, but today, you will walk a long distance before spotting a coffee farm, after residents abandoned the cash crop.

But 20 years later, Ms Rubara is among 200 farmers, including young people, who have embraced coffee farming – with good returns.

She is the chairperson of the Thuura Organic Coffee farmers group, which ventured into anaerobic coffee farming three years ago.
Anaerobic coffee is a specialty coffee processed without using water, where fermentation takes place in vessels without oxygen, making it retain its natural sugars.

According to Mr Sammy Wachieni, CEO of Crowd Farm Africa, which has a contract with the coffee farmers, they sold 20,000 kilos of the first crop, fetching Sh90 per kilo.

He said the organisation is promoting specialty coffee production in Meru and Nyeri as it is cheaper and environmentally friendly.

“In Nyeri, the farmers we introduced anaerobic coffee to needed about Sh4.5 million to repair their factory. This cost was avoided through use of natural processing. In Meru, the farmers also do not have access to a pulping facility, hence the need for innovative ways to process their produce,” Mr Wachieni says.

To encourage women coffee farmers, Crowd Farm Africa requires every family to set aside 50 coffee bushes for a woman.

Kelvin Gitonga, a coffee farmer in Thuura during the interview on October 23, 2021. He is a member of Thuura Organic Coffee farmers group that has ventured into anaerobic coffee production fetching Sh90 per kilo for their first crop.

Photo credit: David Muchui | Nation Media Group

“I was among a group of farmers who went through coffee farming training three years ago. We were taught about varieties that are less costly to manage and produce more. A buyer also committed to support us and buy our produce at good prices. I took the risk,” Ms Rubara says.

Grow coffee

The group’s 100 farmers sold their first harvest this month and were paid Sh90 per kilo.

Ms Rubara now has 150 coffee bushes, under a gender inclusivity initiative aimed at encouraging more women and young people to venture into coffee farming.

Mr Kelvin Gitonga, a young farmer with 250 trees, says coffee farming is a lucrative venture if done with expert advice.

“As a young person, I chose coffee because it is the second most traded commodity in the world after crude oil. Therefore, the market is not a problem,” he said.

“The SL28 variety we are growing can yield up to 100 kilos per tree every year. The coffee can fetch more than Sh100 per kilo, meaning that once my 250 trees reach optimum production, we can fetch Sh2.5 million a year,” Mr Gitonga says.

Another farmer, Mr Samuel Mboroki, who grew up seeing his father grow coffee before it lost its lustre, says he has earned Sh30,000 for the last 10 months from his first crop.

“I now believe there is money in coffee. Our plan now is to build a factory where we will process the cherry before milling. I encourage more people to venture into coffee,” Mr Mboroki says.

Reforms introduced by the government have enabled farmers to make money from coffee, says New KPCU acting Managing Director Timothy Mirugi.

He said the miller was working with other stakeholders to introduce specialty coffees in Kenya.

“For the first time, farmers are now earning up to Sh100 per kilo from coffee. This is because of transparency and farmer-centred initiatives introduced in the marketing systems,” Mr Mirugi said.

New KPCU, he said, also intends to introduce other specialty coffees, such as honey-processed coffee, that are gaining traction in the world market.

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