Coffee farming in Kenya is an important sector of the economy, with an estimated 700,000 smallholder farmers and around 3,000 estates. Coffee is produced under two systems: smallholder farmers affiliated with co-operative societies, and coffee estates, which are individually managed coffee plantations. Kenya mainly grows Arabica coffee in five popular varieties: SL 28, SL 34, K7, Ruiru 11, and Batian.
If you are a coffee farmer in Kenya, you might be wondering about the best practices for planting and growing coffee. The elevation, temperature, soil type, and rainfall all play a crucial role in the success of coffee farming. Most of Kenya’s coffee grows from 1400 to 2000 meters above sea level, with temperatures ranging from 15 to 30 degrees Celsius, in deep and well-drained red volcanic soils. Arabica coffee requires rainfall ranging between 1000 and 2,000 mm per annum, which is well distributed in many coffee growing areas in Kenya.
This guide will provide you with a comprehensive overview of coffee planting in Kenya. We will cover the best practices for planting and growing coffee, including the ideal elevation, temperature, soil type, and rainfall for coffee farming. We will also discuss the different varieties of coffee grown in Kenya and provide tips for maintaining healthy coffee plants. Whether you are a smallholder farmer or a coffee estate owner, this guide will help you maximize your coffee yield and produce high-quality coffee beans.
Climate and Soil Conditions
Coffee is a crop that is highly sensitive to climate and soil conditions. In Kenya, coffee is grown in high-altitude regions with temperatures ranging from 15 to 24 degrees Celsius. The high plateaus around Mount Kenya and smaller areas around Mount Elgon are the primary growing regions for coffee in the country. The climate in the Kenyan highlands is characterized by cooler temperatures, humidity, and even rainfall, which often makes shade unnecessary.
The soil conditions in Kenya are also ideal for the growth of coffee. Coffee grows in fertile volcanic soils that are well-drained and deep, with a pH range of 5.0 to 6.5. The volcanic soils are rich in nutrients, which are essential for the growth and development of coffee plants. The average annual rainfall ranges from 900 – 1,200 mm, which is sufficient for coffee cultivation.
It is important to note that the soil conditions and climate vary depending on the region. Therefore, it is crucial to conduct a soil analysis and consult with local experts to determine the best practices for coffee cultivation in a specific region. In addition, climate change is affecting coffee production worldwide, and farmers in Kenya are adopting climate-smart interventions to mitigate the effects of climate change on their crops.
Varieties of Coffee Plants in Kenya
Coffee is mainly grown in Kenya as a beverage, and the main variety grown is Arabica coffee (C. arabica). However, there are several other varieties of coffee plants grown in Kenya, each with its unique characteristics and flavor profile.
Here are some of the most common varieties of coffee plants grown in Kenya:
- SL28: This variety of coffee plant is tall and has large leaves. It is known for its excellent cup quality and is widely grown in Kenya’s Central Province.
- SL34: This variety of coffee plant is shorter than the SL28 and has smaller leaves. It is also known for its excellent cup quality and is widely grown in Kenya’s Central Province.
- K7: This variety of coffee plant is grown in lower altitude coffee areas and is known for its good bean and liquor qualities.
- Ruiru 11: This variety of coffee plant is a hybrid of the SL28 and Ruiru 746 varieties. It is resistant to coffee berry disease and leaf rust and is widely grown in Kenya’s Central Province.
- Batian: This variety of coffee plant is a hybrid of the Timor and Ruiru 11 varieties. It is resistant to coffee berry disease and leaf rust and is widely grown in Kenya’s Central Province.
Each of these varieties of coffee plants has its unique characteristics and flavor profile. When planting coffee in Kenya, it is essential to choose the right variety of coffee plant that will thrive in the specific growing conditions of your farm.
Also Read: Ruiru 11 Coffee Farming In Kenya
Preparing the Land for Planting
Preparing the land for planting is a crucial step in coffee farming. It involves clearing the land, selecting the right soil, and ensuring proper drainage. Here are some steps to follow when preparing your land for planting coffee:
- Clear the land: Remove all weeds, bushes, and trees from the land. Clearing the land will allow you to see the soil and assess its quality. It will also prevent weeds and other plants from competing with your coffee plants for nutrients and water.
- Test the soil: Conduct a soil test to determine its pH level and nutrient content. Coffee plants thrive in slightly acidic soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5. If the soil is too acidic or alkaline, you will need to adjust it accordingly. Adding organic matter, such as compost or manure, can help improve soil quality.
- Ensure proper drainage: Coffee plants require well-draining soil to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot and other diseases. If your soil has poor drainage, you may need to install drainage tiles or create raised beds to improve water flow.
- Plant cover crops: Before planting coffee, consider planting cover crops such as legumes or grasses. Cover crops can help improve soil fertility, prevent soil erosion, and provide shade for young coffee plants.
- Prepare shade: Coffee plants require partial shade to protect them from direct sunlight. Consider planting shade trees or installing shade nets to provide the right amount of shade for your coffee plants.
By following these steps, you can ensure that your land is properly prepared for planting coffee. Proper land preparation can help ensure healthy plant growth, higher yields, and a more profitable harvest.
Planting coffee requires careful attention to detail to ensure that the plants grow well and produce high-quality beans. Here are some planting techniques to keep in mind:
- Acquire quality planting materials: Choose healthy seedlings from a reputable source to ensure that they will grow into strong, productive plants.
- Prepare the land: Clear the land of any debris or weeds and ensure that the soil is well-drained and fertile. It is also important to test the soil to determine its pH level and nutrient content.
- Layout the field: Determine the spacing between the rows and the plants based on the variety of coffee being planted and the topography of the land.
- Prepare the holes: Dig holes that are deep enough to accommodate the root system of the seedlings and wide enough to allow for proper water drainage.
- Transplant the seedlings: Carefully remove the seedlings from their containers and plant them in the prepared holes. Be sure to water them thoroughly after planting.
It is important to note that planting techniques may vary depending on the specific variety of coffee being planted and the location of the farm. Farmers should consult with local experts to determine the best practices for their particular situation.
Fertilization and Maintenance
Proper fertilization and maintenance are crucial in ensuring the growth and productivity of coffee plants. Here are some guidelines to follow:
Coffee plants require regular fertilization to maintain healthy growth and high yields. The type and amount of fertilizer needed depend on the soil’s nutrient content and the plant’s growth stage. Here are some general recommendations:
|Growth Stage||Fertilizer Type||Amount|
|Seedlings||Organic fertilizer||15 grams per tree|
|Young Trees||Compound fertilizer (NPK 17:17:17)||30 grams per tree|
|Mature Trees||Compound fertilizer (NPK 26:6:12)||50 grams per tree|
|Bearing Trees||Compound fertilizer (NPK 26:6:12)||60 grams per tree|
Note that these are general recommendations, and soil and plant conditions may require adjustments. It’s essential to conduct soil tests and consult with a qualified agronomist to determine the optimal fertilizer program for your coffee plantation.
In addition to fertilization, coffee plants require proper maintenance to thrive. Here are some essential maintenance practices:
- Pruning: Regular pruning helps control plant size, shape, and productivity. Prune annually to remove dead, diseased, or damaged branches and maintain good light penetration.
- Weed Control: Keep the area around the coffee plants free of weeds, which compete for nutrients and water.
- Pest and Disease Control: Monitor your coffee plants for pests and diseases and take appropriate measures to control them. Use integrated pest management practices that minimize the use of chemical pesticides.
- Irrigation: Coffee plants require regular and adequate irrigation to maintain healthy growth and yields. The frequency and amount of irrigation required depend on the soil type, rainfall, and plant growth stage.
By following these fertilization and maintenance guidelines, you can ensure the health and productivity of your coffee plants and maximize your yields.
Pest and Disease Control
Coffee plants are vulnerable to pests and diseases that can significantly reduce yield and increase the cost of production. In Kenya, the most common coffee pests include coffee berry borer, thrips, and leaf miners. On the other hand, coffee leaf rust, American leaf spot, and coffee berry disease are the most common diseases that affect coffee plants.
The best way to control coffee pests and diseases is through integrated pest management. Integrated pest management involves the use of a combination of techniques such as cultural, biological, and chemical control methods to manage pests and diseases. Cultural control methods include practices such as pruning, weeding, and maintaining good hygiene in the farm. Biological control methods involve the use of natural predators such as insects and fungi to control pests and diseases. Chemical control methods involve the use of pesticides to control pests and diseases.
When using chemical control methods, it is essential to follow the recommended dosage and application methods to avoid the development of resistance by the pests and diseases. Additionally, it is crucial to use pesticides that are approved for use in coffee farming and to observe the recommended pre-harvest intervals to avoid contamination of the coffee beans.
Regular monitoring of the coffee farm is crucial in the early detection of pests and diseases. Early detection allows for timely intervention, which can significantly reduce the impact of pests and diseases on the coffee crop. Farmers should also seek advice from agricultural extension officers on the best pest and disease control practices for their specific regions.
Harvesting and Processing
Coffee harvesting in Kenya typically occurs between October and December. The coffee cherries must be picked at the right time to ensure maximum quality and yield. Farmers must be careful not to pick the cherries too early or too late, as this can negatively affect the coffee’s taste and quality.
There are two main methods for processing coffee in Kenya: the wet method and the dry method. The wet method involves removing the outer layers of the coffee cherry and fermenting the remaining beans in water for up to 48 hours. The beans are then washed and dried. This method is used for high-quality coffee beans and produces a cleaner, brighter flavor.
The dry method involves laying the coffee cherries out in the sun to dry, which can take up to 4 weeks. The dried cherries are then hulled to remove the outer layers and sorted by size and weight. This method is less expensive and often used for lower-quality coffee beans.
After processing, the coffee beans are sorted and graded based on size, shape, and color. The highest-quality beans are typically exported, while lower-quality beans are sold domestically or used for instant coffee.
It’s important for farmers to properly store and transport their coffee beans to prevent damage and ensure maximum freshness. The beans should be kept in a cool, dry place and protected from moisture and pests. Proper storage and transportation can help maintain the coffee’s quality and value.
Also Read: Coffee Grading in Kenya
Planting coffee in Kenya can be a lucrative business if done correctly. As we have seen in this guide, it is important to choose the right location, soil type, and variety of coffee plant. Additionally, it is important to follow the recommended planting and maintenance practices for optimal growth and yield.
One of the key takeaways from this guide is the importance of soil preparation. Farmers should ensure that the soil is well-drained and has the right pH levels. This will help prevent diseases and pests that can affect the growth and yield of coffee plants. Farmers should also ensure that they use certified seedlings from reputable nurseries to ensure that they get high-quality plants that are resistant to diseases.
Another important aspect of coffee farming is proper pruning and harvesting techniques. Farmers should prune their coffee plants regularly to ensure that they maintain their shape and size. They should also harvest the coffee cherries at the right time to ensure that they get the best quality beans.
Finally, farmers should always be on the lookout for any signs of diseases or pests that can affect their coffee plants. Early detection and treatment can prevent the spread of these pests and diseases and ensure that the coffee plants remain healthy and productive.
With the right knowledge and practices, farmers in Kenya can produce high-quality coffee beans that can compete with the best in the world. By following the guidelines outlined in this guide, farmers can ensure that their coffee plants thrive and produce high yields of quality beans year after year.
Also Read: Laws Governing Coffee in Kenya
Sources: Kamau, Mercy W., et al. The impact of certification on smallholder coffee farmers in Kenya: the case of ‘UTZ’certification program. No. 308-2016-5002. 2010. Link: https://ageconsearch.umn.edu/record/96651/
Minai, J. M., N. Nyairo, and P. Mbataru. “Analysis of socio-economic factors affecting the coffee yields of smallholder farmers in Kirinyaga County, Kenya.” Journal of Agricultural and Crop Research 2.12 (2014): 228-235. Link: http://sciencewebpublishing.net/jacr/archive/2014/December/pdf/Minai%20et%20al.pdf