Farmers hope for coffee boom dashed as cold dry weather persist

A farmers tends her coffee trees in Nyeri County. The harvesting season is at its peak. PHOTO | correspondent

Farmers’ hope for a boom in coffee production and likelihood of fetching higher prices for their produce have been dashed following the persistent cold and dry weather that the country has experienced this year.

With the unpredictable weather pattern, farmers have been grappling with continuous flowering which coincides with berry formation and ripening of the same making it hard to control pest and diseases.

As a result of the continuous flowering, farmers have been picking their produce after every two weeks at the backdrop of declined production, reduced berry size and  production of quality beans.

“The coffee we are currently picking has reduced in size and the density is very light. This means that we have a lot of coffee that is of lower grades such that grade AB and C are the dominant grades that we are selling at the auction,” said Mr Charles Karinga, chairman of the Kiawamururu factory in Mukurwe-ini, Nyeri County.

Previously, farmers have been producing premium grade AA in large volumes but that is not the case this year. Production and delivery of lower grades to the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) has also contributed to lower prices a 50kg bag is fetching on declined demand.

According to Mr Karinga, their coffee is fetching an average of Sh36, 000 per 50kg bag compared to about Sh48, 000-Sh54,000 per 50kg bag in the same period last year.

“Our premium grade AA is actually fetching less than Sh36, 000 which has not been the case before,” he said noting that this was as a result of the vagaries of climate change.

He went on to say that lack of rains and the extreme cold season has contributed to the declined quality of coffee farmers are currently produced noting that the coffee plants require significant amount of rainfall to enhance production.

“There was no wetness in the soil which has greatly affected quality and production. Furthermore, the coffee plantations are relying on foliar which is not sufficient to support berry formation,” he said.

Factories and cooperative leverage on the volumes produced of grade AA to fetch higher prices as well as compliment the price of other grades and classification of coffee at the auction.

This reality has been replicated by dozens of factories in the county.

At Ndaroini coffee growers association in Mathira, the chairman said much as production has gone down by approximately 20 per cent from last year, the farmers have registered slowed maturity rate due to the ongoing cold weather.

“The consequence of this is that we will have a lot of low grades while we have realized better volumes of premium grades in the past,” he said.

Further, he noted that this would affect prices for the produce and overall payout to the farmer.

“We are likely to see a situation where even though the market is good, the farmer may not benefit,” he said.

The farmers remain hopeful that should the rains fall before the start of the main season in November, they will leverage on global demand for Kenyan coffee against the declining production of the leading coffee producer Brazil following the frost attack last year.

In some farms, due to the prolonged drought, the coffee bushes have completely dried up.