January 8, 2020

Renewing Generational Interest in Kenyan Coffee Production

Coffee production faces challenges all over the world. In Kenya, things are no different. However here, the age of producers could compromise the future of the country’s coffee industry. As most coffee farmers rapidly approaching an age when managing a farm independently could become challenging, an urgent generation gap has arisen. 

To bridge this gap, younger Kenyans needs to get take up coffee production, and for this to happen, solutions must be found for the issues keeping them from entering the industry.

Here are some of the efforts being made to ensure that Kenyans keep benefitting from a thriving coffee industry – and that the world keeps enjoying its coffee for decades to come.

Lee este artículo en español Renovando el Interés de Los Jóvenes en la Caficultura de Kenia

A coffee farm in Nyeri, Kenya. Credit: Peter Wanjohi

What’s Keeping Young Kenyans Away?

Many complex factors have combined to make coffee production an unpopular pursuit for young Kenyans. Many of these factors have been years in the making, while some have arisen due to the unique conditions faced by today’s generation. 

Farm succession is critical for production efforts to continue across generations. However studies show that many producers are reluctant to pass on their land to their children or grandchildren, leaving them without any land on which to continue farming. In addition to this, families experienced in production aren’t encouraging the youth to take up farming.

Farming is no longer being encouraged by older generations for many reasons. One is that family sizes In Kenya are shrinking. As a result of this, many families are choosing to educate their children and raise them in urban settings. 

As this generation grows up, they tend to remain in the city to pursue white-collar jobs, as they’re seen as better paying, more secure, and being clean. Those that do consider coffee farming must balance high expectations of instant returns with reality. Many young people aren’t patient enough to make a long-term investment. 

With coffee sales prices are at low levels and production facing challenges from climate change and market pressure, many feel that production is a high effort, low reward occupation.

Another factor that could be impacting a lack of attraction in this sector is that Kenya isn’t a coffee drinking country in the first place. Less than five percent of the country’s total production is consumed locally, which can be attributed to a strong tea drinking culture and lack of disposable income to spend on what’s perceived as a luxury.

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Kenyan producers gather at a coffee expo in Nyeri, Kenya. Credit: Peter Wanjohi

The Way Forward

For coffee production to continue in Kenya, younger citizens needs to educated on the potential benefits of coffee farming – and they also need support at local and national level to make it financially and practically viable for them. Here are some of the measures being put into place to provide this.

Investing in Education

To address the lack of education being passed down from older generations, the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology’s Institute of Food Bioresources Technology has introduced a Certificate and Diploma course in Coffee Technology and Quality Management and Diploma in Coffee Technology and Cupping. 

The institute’s farm has 75,000 bushes of combined SL 28, Batian and Ruiru coffee. This gives students practical experience covering the seed to cup process, as well as agronomy, trade, coffee economics, cupping, and quality evaluation. Here, students continuously research innovations on best practices to improve quality and price in the coffee value chain.

They’ve also developed a Coffee Technology Center managing processing, packaging, research, and training. In addition, they produce premium medium roast ground and whole bean coffee, and have acquired a Coffee Pilot packaging plant as part of their Vision 2030 flagship project. This will see them add value and build the capacity of stakeholders involved coffee value chain development. 

Once students graduate, they can receive further training (as farmers and cooperative management boards) on best practices in Coffee Technology and Quality Management through customized short courses. The Othaya Coffee Cooperative is an example of this in action, with 19 small wet mills with over 15,000 members benefitting from farm management workshops and wet mill best practice training. 

To tackle the challenges arising from rising temperatures make existing crops susceptible to disease, the institute has launched a Coffee Productivity Project in collaboration with Coffee Research Institute. This project is funded by the European Union, which receives the majority of the country’s Kenya’s agricultural exports. It provides coffee seedlings at subsidized prices, and promotes varieties resistant to coffee rust and coffee leaf disease

The above efforts are helping address the lack of information that younger generations have on production, as well as providing them with mentorship and support they might not have access to. It also helps equip them with tools to improve their farming outcomes in less time. Most graduates are absorbed by farmer’s societies, coffee marketers, coffee dealers, and millers – further helping them realise the economic value of the commodity. 

Ripe and unripe coffee cherries on a coffee tree. Credit: Miguel Regalado 

Helping Farmers Increase Yields 

While the above efforts are helping provide future farmers with the necessary education and tools to succeed as farmers, others are actively assisting them in setting up their own farms. One of them is the Cirigwa Farmers’ Cooperative. 

This cooperative consists of two small youth groups, and was first founded in 2012. These groups receive training from a company called Sustainable Management Services (which is a subsidiary of the ECOM Agro Industrial Cooperation), which aims to help farmers increase their profitability and ensure better quality and traceability for buyers in the supply chain.

This training guides them on pruning, composting, spraying, and harvesting their crops. This allows them to help carry out these tasks on each other’s coffee fields. Together, they can purchase inputs, such as fertilisers, to increase yields on their farms. After some time, they can also become promoter farmers who can offer training in these skills to other farmers. 

To tackle to problem of a lack of farmland and resources, soft loans are provided to producers so that they can invest in coffee seedlings. They can also jointly lease land to form a joint farm, and use the proceeds to buy their own farms or expand their existing farms in the future.

Since this project’s introduction, productivity on the involved coffee farms has surged, with reports mentioning that members have recorded tremendous change in terms of quality and quantity, and are self-motivated, with their coffee farms among the leading farms in the country. This helps to address the lack of motivation amongst younger farmers, by helping them see real results in less time.

A coffee washing station in Africa. Credit: Nicole Motteux

Staging Nationwide Interventions

While individual efforts are necessary to bring younger Kenyans back to coffee farming, support at a national level is required for lasting change to take place. In 2016, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta formed a Task Force on Coffee Reforms with findings and recommendations on coffee farming that will be implemented in the future. 

These proposed changes were to be incorporated in the Crop Act of 2013 and the 2020/2021 season. It aims to tackle the high costs associated with entering coffee production in the country, with the aim of seeing producers pocket up to 80% of their gross earnings. This could motivate farmers to increase their crop quality and quantity – as well as attract more youth into coffee.

According to regulations, “the cost charged by co-operative societies to growers for pulping, factory expenses, transportation, milling, warehousing, brokerage, and any other expenses shall be as per the societies’ budget but shall not exceed 20% of the gross earnings from coffee sales.”

In order to ensure that there is accountability and a paper trail, the government will introduce four licenses, including ones for coffee nurseries, pulping, milling, and roasting. There will also be licences introduced directly targeting the youth.

According to Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina, “The regulations are welcome and we must see to it that the farmer is not exploited anymore. We must get back to the old system where agriculture extension officers guided farmers in best farming practices. Cooperatives must also be strengthened.”

Raised beds being built at a mill in Africa. Credit: Nicole Motteux

Conclusion

Getting youth involved in coffee production will require local organisations, farmers, and leaders addressing the problem directly. This means that experienced farmers should get involved in mentoring the youth, and that government, agencies, and departments should take an interest in youth development initiatives. 

By relinquishing some farming land to the youth and advising on how to operate in the sector, everyone will benefit. Additionally, extension services, workshops, seminars and forums, as well as advance loans and subsidies can also benefit this age group. 

As Kenyan entrepreneur Vava Angwenyi states, When you’re dealing with such a volatile product, we want [young producers] to own the product more. The industry needs more radical leaders. Perhaps that’ll come from the next generation. At least, that’s what we’re betting on and that’s why we’re investing in youth programs”.

With most of the above mentioned efforts only just starting to be implemented, only time will tell how successful these initiatives are – but initial results are pointing towards success.

Enjoyed this? Then Read How Coffee Producers Can Adapt to Climate Change

Written by Peter Gakuo. Feature photo caption: Raised beds being built at a mill. Feature photo credit: Nicole Motteux

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