A good number of us from coffee growing areas were brought up and educated with proceeds from coffee farming. Yours truly included. But a lot coffee farmers became disillusioned over the years due to policies and practices that were unfriendly to the farmer, and farming of this otherwise lucrative cash crop suffered. Many farmers in different parts of the country have found themselves felling their coffee bushes and opting to grow subsistence crops on their farms. This, coupled with the fact that a lot of young people are not embracing farming, let alone coffee farming, has led to an overall negative perception towards it.
But this is changing and I was recently privileged to be a first hand witness to the coming back of coffee in Embu county where some colleagues and I went to visit farmers and coffee associations in the area. Our day trip to Embu saw us visit Murue Farmers’ Cooperative Society, one of the 12 cooperatives in the area that is working closely with Coffee Management Services to implement what is known as the Nescafe Plan.
The Nescafe Plan is a global initiative under which Nestle is working to ensure sustainability and profitability of coffee farming. The plan is implemented by CMS (Coffee Management Services) through training of farmers on how to maximize coffee yields and therefore earnings, with an end game of improving the livelihoods of the farmers under their wings as well as communities as a whole. Among other financial undertakings, Nestle facilitates the training of agronomists and distribution of new strains of coffee in the area. One of the coffee varieties being distributed is Batian which is disease resistant and high yielding.
The Nescafe Plan also has a women and youth program that seeks to dispel the long standing belief that coffee is an old man’s crop, and to make coffee farming attractive and profitable to these two groups. This is the best way to ensure continuity of the crop.
One of the people we spoke to is Peter Kimata – a senior agronomist working with Coffee Management Services. He’s also the project manager of the Nescafe Plan under which Nestle hires and trains agronomists who in turn train farmers. Peter says that the farmers are trained on good agricultural practices – a broad term that means things like proper pruning, pest control, mulching, prevention of soil erosion, climate mitigation and how to protect the environment by not using harmful chemicals.
Because of all the above, farmers now have more knowledge and understanding as they go about their day to day activities in coffee farming. Farmers who religiously follow the guidelines by agronomists are reaping big. In an absolute win win situation, their cost of production has gone down and yields have gone up. They’re also making safer coffee, free of banned chemicals and this has widened the market base.
One of the farmers we visited is Grace Njura, a 52 year old mother of 3 who has gone against the grain and ventured into coffee farming. I say against the grain because one, coffee is somewhat regarded as a man’s crop and two, farmers in many parts of the country have opted for other crops in place of coffee. Grace has seen a remarkable rise in yields and therefore income since she started taking care of her coffee anew under the Nescafe Plan. With strict adherence to the training of the agronomists deployed by the Coffee Management Services, her yields from just half an acre farm have sky rocketed from 500kg or slightly above, to 3,200kg per season. With a pay-out of approximately 100 bob per kilo (give or take depending on quality), Grace is certainly in the money unlike in the past when coffee growing was just a matter of going through the motions and watching her little pay get eaten up by society loans. She’s now able to buy stuff, educate her children, and build herself as a person. What does Grace have to say about coffee farming? “Treat coffee well and it will treat you well in terms of returns”.
The younger generation is also embracing coffee farming under the guidance of the Nescafe Plan. 35 year old Duncan Kamau for example a trained veterinarian who decided to get serious with coffee in 2012. At that time he was harvesting around 500kg per season, a number he has seen rise to 900kg by 2014, 1,200kg by 2015 and 2,000kg by last year. Duncan is so motivated by his growth that he wants to buy additional land and expand his coffee farming business. He advises the youth to take a look at coffee farming as a way out of joblessness, and out of the need for white collar jobs. Duncan has 230 stems on a 1 acre farm.
These two are just examples of the good things happening to coffee farmers under the Nescafe Plan. After harvest, farmers are free to channel their crop through the coffee auction or to sell to direct market. Whichever way there is ready market out there and this has been made possible by the fact that farmers are now producing better quality coffee. Coffee that is free from dangerous chemicals which can hinder coffee access into some markets.
This is exactly the kind of developments we need as the country works to quash unemployment and hopelessness among the youth.