Kenyan coffee is probably one of the most valued and demanded of African coffees. It is arabica coffee grown on a rich volcanic soil in thr highlands of the country. More than 700,000 people are employed in the coffee production. The majority are smallholders organised in cooperatives to which they sell their coffee cherry. The rest are either coffee estates (around 4,000) that have their workers, picker, wet and dry mill to process and sell their own coffee directly.
Coffee is Kenya’s fourth leading foreign exchange earner after tourism, tea and horticulture. It is estimated that in Kenya 160,000 hectares are under coffee, 75.5 per cent of which is in the co-operative sub-sector and 24.5 per cent in the estates.
The majority of the planted land is owned by small farmers but coffee estate produce up to 50% of the coffee production because of more intensive use of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and irrigation.
Kenya has two coffee harvests. The main crop is harvested from September to December and the fly crop, from March to July.
- SL 28
- SL 34
Both SL varietals are sensible to Coffee Berry Disease and Coffee Leaf Rust
New Varietals resistant to CBD and CLR
- Ruiru 11 (released in 1985)
- Batian (released in 2010)
Coffee was first introduced in Kenya in 1893. Until 1930, it was reserved for the European colons. It's only after that date that African people were conceaded the right to produce coffee, first in the region of Kisii on the rift valley and in Meru County on the slopes of Mount Kenya. Nowadays, coffee is produced all over the country with a big concentration around Nairobi and Mount Kenya.
The level of production has increased during the 60's/70's, time when were introduced through cooperatives and following the initiative of the government, new agricultural practises such as pruning and using fertilizers and pesticides to increase the yields. And in the 80's, a new coffee variety called Ruiru 11, more resistant to coffee berry disease and leaf rust, was distributed to farmers
Since the collapse of quota agreements in the early 1990s that had been put in place by members of the International Coffee Organization since 1963, coffee prices have fallen drastically, with consequent lower earnings for the farmers. This, combined with climate change, expansion of coffee leaf rust and coffee berry disease, lead to a decline by 62% of the coffee production since 1988. In the lower altitudes, coffee has been replaced by dairy and food crops.
Most of the producers (70%) are small scale farmers organized into factories and cooperatives to which they deliver their coffee cherry. They do ot take care of the process themselves.
They are usually paid after the conclusion of the purchase and after deduction of the potential uses of inputs they might have during the year to manage their farm. Sometimes cooperatives can also make advance on payments when they have sufficient cash flow.
Cooperatives are the owner of the wet mills and they take care of the whole process (generally fully-washed) from the pulping to the drying. They can also facilitate access to inputs, fertilisers, chemicals and can organised training sessions for the farmer's. Each cooperative has minimum 1 wet factory (wet mill). Some have up to 14.
When the farmers deliver the coffee cherries, they are paid by kg and quality. Poor quality cherries (unripe, overripe mbuni or cherry affected by diseases) are sorted out before processing.
Factories process the cherries following the fully-washed method: beans are put in fermentation tanks and covered with water after pulping, They are left between 24-48h until removing all the mucilage.
Then, coffee beans are washed in leveled canals to allow the grading according to the density. The heaviest stays on the hhigher stages while the lightest goes until the end.
Following this grading, beans are put into drying tables and left to dry until reaching 12% of moisture. During this time, beans will be removed regularly to allow good and homogeneous drying.
Sometimes, after being washed and before the drying phase, some factories put an additional step: they soak the beans into clear water during an additional time to finish polishing the bean and bring clean and bright acidities. This is called the Kenyan process.
Once the beans have reached the level of 12% moisture, they are put to rest into storing warehouses for a couple of months. Then, they will be brought to the dry mill (the miller) to remove the parchment and be graded before being sold.
It's different for coffee estates that have their own processing factories and sometimes, their own dry mill to remove the parchment.
The 1933 Coffee Act has introduced the auction system run by the government. 90% of the coffee is currently sold through auctions.
The auction system is considered as an example of transparency as it is based on the quality and the grading of the coffees. It takes place every Tuesday in Nairobi Coffee Exchange. Participation to the auctions is however restricted to licensed marketing agents and dealers.
So farmers's cooperative need to contract the services of at least one marketing agents to be able to selle their coffees.
Marketing agents are authorized to store and trade green coffee on behalf of the farmers and/or cooperatives, to process to payment and sometimes to give advance of payment to the growers.
They have also an important role supporting the farmers and cooperative they represent. They aim at improving both volume and quality. To do so, they might offer financial (payment advance, certifications), material (buying new pulper or drying tables) and even human support through for examples training of the factory staff, the farmers, encouraging domestic consuming etc
Since 2006 and the introduction of the "second window" system, it is theorically possible for farmers to sell their coffee directly to an international buyer and to negotiate a contract signed and registered by the coffee board,.
In practise though, farmers or cooperative couldn't enter the international market so easily as they had neither enough money to buy the license nor the sufficient connections, skills and knowledge of marketing and logistics. So in reality this second window has reinforced the position of the marketing agents, giving them more possibilities to reach international market directly and to get an additionnal commission.
Coffee fanning in Kenya is experiencing a number of problems. Some of these are: