Kenya is known for producing some of the world’s finest coffee, with a reputation for quality and unique flavor profiles. However, the state of coffee farming in Kenya has been facing challenges in recent years, including climate change, low prices, and lack of investment in infrastructure and technology. These challenges have affected the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who rely on coffee as their main source of income.
According to Statista, the production of coffee in Kenya has been declining in recent years, with a decrease of 2.5 thousand metric tons from the previous season. This decline is attributed to various factors, including climate change, pests and diseases, and lack of investment in research and development. The Coffee Development Fund, established in 2006, was meant to provide affordable credit to farmers, but its impact has been limited due to corruption and mismanagement.
Despite these challenges, there are efforts to improve the state of coffee farming in Kenya. The Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a global initiative to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product, is working with stakeholders in Kenya to promote sustainable farming practices, increase productivity, and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Additionally, there are initiatives to improve the quality and traceability of Kenyan coffee, such as the Direct Trade model, which connects farmers directly with roasters and consumers.
History of Coffee Farming in Kenya
Coffee farming in Kenya has a rich history that dates back to the late 19th century. The first coffee trees were introduced to Kenya in 1893 by French Holy Ghost Fathers who brought them from Reunion Island. The first coffee crop was harvested in 1896, with quality being a top priority from the outset.
By the early 20th century, coffee farming had become a major industry in Kenya, with British and European farmers settling in the interior and making significant profits through coffee farming. However, the Kenyan workers who worked on these farms were not treated fairly and had no real land claims according to the Europeans.
The coffee act of 1933 paved the way for the establishment of the Kenyan Coffee Board, which began to oversee coffee production, quality control, and auctioning. The Kenya Planters Coffee Union (KPCU) was also formed in 1931 to promote the marketing of coffee produce and help farmers get better prices. These developments marked a turning point in the history of coffee farming in Kenya, as the industry became more organized and efficient.
Today, coffee farming remains an important industry in Kenya, with the country being one of the top producers of high-quality Arabica coffee in the world. The industry has faced some challenges in recent years, such as climate change and low coffee prices, but efforts are being made to address these issues and ensure the sustainability of the industry for years to come.
Current Challenges Facing Coffee Farming in Kenya
Kenya is known for producing high-quality coffee that is highly rated in the world. However, coffee farming in Kenya is facing several challenges that are threatening the sector’s sustainability. Some of the current challenges facing coffee farming in Kenya include:
- Climate Change: Climate change has affected coffee production in Kenya, with unpredictable weather patterns leading to reduced yields and poor quality beans. Droughts, floods, and pests and diseases have become more frequent and severe, affecting coffee production in the country.
- Low Productivity: Coffee productivity in Kenya is low due to various factors such as aging coffee trees, poor farm practices, and lack of access to credit and other resources. This has led to reduced yields and lower incomes for coffee farmers.
- High Cost of Production: The cost of producing coffee in Kenya is high due to various factors such as high fertilizer and labor costs, poor infrastructure, and low economies of scale. This has made it difficult for coffee farmers to compete in the global market, leading to reduced exports and lower incomes.
- Price Volatility: The price of coffee in the global market is highly volatile, with fluctuations affecting farmers’ incomes and profitability. Farmers in Kenya are vulnerable to price fluctuations due to their low bargaining power and lack of access to market information.
Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach that involves various stakeholders, including the government, coffee farmers, and private sector players. Some of the strategies that can be used to address these challenges include:
- Investing in Climate-Smart Agriculture: Promoting climate-smart agriculture practices such as agroforestry, soil conservation, and water harvesting can help coffee farmers adapt to climate change and improve yields and quality.
- Promoting Good Farm Practices: Providing farmers with training and resources to adopt good farm practices such as pruning, fertilization, and pest control can help improve coffee productivity and quality.
- Improving Access to Credit and Markets: Providing farmers with access to affordable credit and market information can help improve their bargaining power and profitability.
- Promoting Value Addition: Promoting value addition activities such as roasting, grinding, and packaging can help increase the value of Kenyan coffee and improve farmers’ incomes.
Addressing these challenges will require a concerted effort from all stakeholders to ensure the sustainability of the coffee sector in Kenya.
Also Read: Problems Facing Coffee Farming In Kenya
Efforts to Improve the State of Coffee Farming in Kenya
Kenya’s coffee production has been on a decline over the past 25 years, but there are efforts underway to improve the state of coffee farming in the country. Here are some of the initiatives:
- Climate-smart agriculture: The World Coffee Research recommends the implementation of climate-smart agriculture strategies in the coffee sector. This can improve farmers’ productivity by 45%, while reducing carbon emissions and equipping them to better cope with climate change.
- Youth participation: Kenya’s coffee industry needs more participation from younger farmers. According to a research paper published on ResearchGate, the participation of younger farmers with diversified income is essential for the sustainable improvement of Kenya’s coffee production.
- Improved prices: The Kenyan government has proposed a coffee bill that seeks to cap interest rates for loans advanced to coffee farmers for capital development to a maximum of 5%. With a kilogram of coffee now being sold as high as KES 700, improved prices have boosted the morale of farmers, and many are returning to coffee farming.
- Training and education: The Kenyan government, in partnership with various organizations, offers training and education programs to farmers to improve their coffee farming skills. The programs cover various aspects of coffee farming, including planting, pruning, pest control, and harvesting.
These initiatives are aimed at improving the state of coffee farming in Kenya and ensuring that the country remains a top coffee producer in the world.
Impact of Coffee Farming on the Kenyan Economy
Coffee farming has been an important contributor to the Kenyan economy for many years. The coffee industry is a significant source of foreign exchange and employment for the country. The sector employs over 600,000 Kenyans, and the majority of these are smallholder farmers. The Kenyan government has recognized the importance of the coffee industry and has put measures in place to support its growth.
The coffee industry is one of the top foreign exchange earners in Kenya. In the coffee year 2017/18, coffee exports earned the country approximately $220 million. The United States of America, Belgium, and the Republic of Korea were the top export destinations for Kenyan coffee. The coffee industry also supports other sectors of the economy, such as transportation, packaging, and marketing.
However, the coffee industry in Kenya has faced challenges in recent years. The declining production of coffee has been a major concern. In the 2018/19 coffee year, production declined by 11% compared to the previous year. This decline has been attributed to various factors, including climate change, pests and diseases, and low prices for coffee. The government has implemented measures to address some of these challenges, such as providing subsidies for inputs and improving extension services to farmers.
The sustainability of the coffee industry is crucial for the Kenyan economy. The government and other stakeholders need to work together to address the challenges facing the industry and ensure its growth. This will not only benefit the farmers but also the entire economy.
The state of coffee farming in Kenya is complex and multifaceted. On the one hand, coffee is a vital part of the Kenyan economy, providing employment for millions of people and generating significant revenue. On the other hand, climate change and other factors are threatening the long-term viability of the industry.
Small-scale farmers are particularly vulnerable to these challenges, as they lack the resources and infrastructure to adapt to changing conditions. However, there are also many initiatives underway to support these farmers and promote sustainable, climate-smart agriculture practices.
One such initiative is the promotion of alternative livelihoods activities, such as beekeeping, fish farming, and chicken enterprise. These ventures provide farmers with additional sources of income and help to reduce their dependence on coffee production.
Another key strategy is the use of technology and innovation to improve coffee production and mitigate the effects of climate change. For example, some farmers are experimenting with new varieties of coffee that are more resistant to drought and other environmental stressors.
Overall, the future of coffee farming in Kenya is uncertain, but there is reason for optimism. With the right support and investment, the industry can continue to thrive and provide a livelihood for millions of people in the years to come.
Also Read: Coffee Farming In Kenya
Sources: Condliffe, Kate, et al. “Kenya coffee: a cluster analysis.” Professor Michael Porter, Microeconomics of Competitiveness. Harvard Business School, May 2 (2008): 2. Link: https://www.isc.hbs.edu/Documents/resources/courses/moc-course-at-harvard/pdf/student-projects/Kenya_Coffee_2008.pdf
Thuku, Gideon Kiguru, Paul Gachanja, and Obere Almadi. “Effects of reforms on productivity of coffee in Kenya.” International Journal of Business and Social Science 4.15 (2013): 196-213. Link: https://www.academia.edu/download/76884796/26.pdf