Last Friday, my colleagues, the Nestlé team and I took a day trip to visit James Maina, a trained Electrical Engineer from Corong’i area in Nyeri county. James is also a successful coffee farmer operating under the Nescafé plan, and has since seen his coffee yields jump from a paltry 200kg to 1,300kg per harvest with guidance from the Nescafé Plan agronomists. He tends his coffee and his mother’s as well and the family has realized yields and incomes beyond their dreams. James is coming from a point where he was almost a pauper to a point where he’s educating his 4 children at different levels, including university. He has also been able to buy a motorbike for his every day mobility. This is a powerful story of a father who has been enabled to give his family the most valuable gift – a good upbringing and a good education. He’s also able to give his mother a comfortable life. By his own admission, James does not know stress.
What is the Nescafe Plan?
The Nescafe Plan is a global initiative under which Nestlé 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 through use of good farming practices like mulching, pest control, climate mitigation and protection of the environment by not using harmful chemicals. The end result for the Nescafe Plan is improvement of the livelihoods of the farmers under their wings as well as communities around them. Among other financial undertakings, Nestlé facilitates the training of agronomists and distribution of new strains of coffee in coffee growing areas. One of the coffee varieties being distributed is Batian which is disease resistant and high yielding. Source.
The Nescafé plan is already working with 42,000 farmers like James in the coffee growing areas of Nyeri, Murang’a, Embu, Kiambu, Kirinyaga and Meru. Of the 42,000, 6,000 are women.
The challenges that coffee farming is facing and that the Nescafé Plan addresses are many, including climate change, poor pricing, ageing and poorly maintained trees and probably worst of all, bad policies and practices by the powers that be. Add to that the fact that coffee farming has mostly been left to ageing farmers who really do not have the energy to give it the attention it demands. These are farmers who have previously been let down by the crop before so it is understandable why morale would be at an all time low. All these frustrations have been known to lead small scale farmers into shifting their land use to subsistence farming.
But clearly all is not lost.
The Nescafé plan comes in to tackle these problems by deliberately drawing in mostly the youth and women into coffee farming. And it does not end at coffee production. The program spreads its tentacles to educating bright but needy children and training the youth in other coffee related careers outside of actual farming. One could build a career as a barista for example.
My home is actually not far from Maina’s and for me, the visit to his farm was both nostalgic of a time when my parents had flourishing coffee bushes, and a clear vision that things can get there for us as well. Maina’s is a clear testimony that as much as coffee took a bad hit over the years, it can, and will take its place again as country’s top pride and joy. It is laudable to see that the hopelessness that engulfed coffee farmers not long ago can, and is indeed being lifted.
Our visit to which was part of #InternationalCoffeeDay was a fun filled day that even involved a session with master barista Wycliffe Abiga who showed us how to make the perfect cup of coffee. Nestlé also sent us home with goodies and recipes to try out when we get home. For those of us who just toss a teaspoon of coffee into hot water or milk, you’ll be surprised at just how much you’re underusing coffee!
We also got to spend some time at the Mount Kenya Coffee Mills where we got to see what actually happens to coffee once it has left the farms. The closest I’ve been to coffee after the farm is a wet mill, and in my cup. The highlight of the day for me was therefore to witness the cleaning, sorting and grading process.
It was good to see, and to hear from a farmer, that there’s a lot more to coffee than the doom and gloom that we read about in papers or watch on the news. There is economic empowerment, and the ripple effect that reaches further into surrounding communities.