Talk of coffee to a majority of the two million residents of Nakuru County may not ring a bell. To them, coffee is a Mt Kenya crop and only come into contact with it on the table.
Governor Lee Kinyanjui led administration, however, wants the county to be on the national coffee map and beyond. At least 2,686 acres are under the crop with small scale farmers owning 666 acres and the rest in the hands of large estates.
Coffee is grown in the three sub-counties of Subukia, Bahati and Rongai.
Poor management, decaying infrastructure, neglect by the past regime, lack of marketing strategies, poor chemical use are some of the reasons that have seen the once -flourishing coffee sub-sector decline.
With the potential to grow and create job opportunities, the devolved unit is now at the forefront of reviving the cash crop.
At least seven coffee farmers co-operatives have taken the county government initiative seriously and held a meeting in Bahati on October 26 with agro-chemical companies dubbed Nakuru Coffee Forum to discuss its management.
The societies include Mutungati, Jumatatu, Wikurie, Demu, Kiremba, Solai and Mandizi
“My administration wants to streamline the neglected coffee sector in the county and ultimately my goal is to have coffee branded from Nakuru for export market,” said governor Kinyanjui.
He said the county has a huge potential for coffee expansion that is still unexploited.
“Coffee farmers in Nakuru have big farms for expansion unlike other traditional areas such as Mt Kenya where farms are shrinking by the day and that is the advantage we want the farmers to seize and create wealth,” said Kinyanjui.
The latest International Coffee Organisation report, says although Kenyan coffee is so little in the global scene, it is still fetching the highest price and most sought after.
“Our farmers have the potential to make more money even if the average global prices is three dollars per kilogramme. Our coffee is capable of fetching up to 10 dollars per kilogramme because of its high quality and that is why I urge farmers to grow more coffee,” said Mr Kinyanjui.
County executive in charge of Agricultre docket Immaculate Njuthe Maina said coffee demand both locally and globally was on the rise.
“We want to take advantage of this demand and that is why we are mobilising coffee farmers through their co-operatives to troop back to their farms,” said Maina.
County crops development officer Fredrick Ochieng’ Owino said farmers in the region benefited from 40,000 seedlings from county and national government.
“Our focus is to train our farmers on good agricultural practices to increase our average acreage by 50 acres this year and production from two kilogrammes to 12 kilogrammes per year,” said Owino.
Apart from improving quality of coffee, Owino said the county is also planning to help farmers acquire better machinery for production.
He said Sh2 million will be used this financial year to upgrade pulping machines at Mutungati Farmers Co-operative Society.
He said one of the biggest challenges in production is the ageing coffee farmer.
“We want our youth to start roasting coffee and sell our own branded coffee as one way of enticing them to join the value chain,” said Mr Owino.
Chairman of Mutungati Coffee Farmers co-operative society Peter Ngugi Wanyeki said many smallholder farmers had lost touch in farming techniques.
“The chemicals which some of the farmers were using are no longer there and that is why we have formed the Nakuru coffee forum to learn how to apply the new ones and good management of the coffee,” said Ngugi.
The official who is also the Nakuru Coffee Growers Forum chairman said the aim of the group is to help farmers increase their harvest from two kilogrammes to 12 kilogrammes per tree.
He said some of the challenges slowing down revival of coffee in the county include poor infrastructure, high transport fees to the market, and middlemen who hire people to steal the beans in the stores and the farms.