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Best Kenya coffee now gets global identity

Coffee Board of Kenya managing director Louise Njeru launches the Kenyan Coffee Brand logo at the KICC in Nairobi, January 22, 2010. Fredrick Onyango
Coffee Board of Kenya managing director Louise Njeru launches the Kenyan Coffee Brand logo at the KICC in Nairobi, January 22, 2010. Fredrick Onyango 

Kenya will brand its top quality arabica coffee to give it a distinct global identity and distinguish it from beans of other origins, the Coffee Board of Kenya said on Friday.

More than 95 per cent of Kenya coffee is currently exported as raw green beans without any identity, but from now on it will bear a green logo with a silhouette of Mount Kenya and the words Coffee Kenya.

Although it is a tiny grower with average annual output of 50,000 tonnes, Kenyan coffee is popular with roasters who blend it with other beans. It is increasingly prized by high-end niche markets.

“People front coffee that is not Kenyan coffee and call it Kenyan coffee,” said Loise Njeru, chief executive at the regulatory board. “For now, we want to give Kenyan coffee a face, because you walk anywhere in the world and find coffee called AA, it could be AA from anywhere.”

Trademark rights

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Neighbouring Ethiopia has obtained trademark rights for at least three of its coffee brands and signed agreements with scores of global companies to promote them. Most of the best beans are grown on volcanic soils on foothills around the snow-peaked Mount Kenya at an altitude of between 1,400 and 2,100 metres above sea level.

Production in the east African country has fallen over the years from an all-time peak of 130,000 tonnes in 1988/89 season due to mismanagement, indebtedness and bad returns. The government sought to reform the sector by liberalising marketing and milling and took over 3.2 billion shillings ($42.19 million) owed by farmers in 2001.

Buyers are often willing to pay a premium for Kenyan coffee. In mid-December, the price for the benchmark AA grade soared to $601 per 50-kg bag. One of the reforms instituted in the sector, which accounts for 3.5 percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product, allowed farmers to sell their produce directly to buyers overseas without offering it at a central auction.

Njeru said the brand would help the increasing number of people globally that are demanding pure Kenyan coffee to pick it out from other coffees and blends. “With the opening up of direct sales and the growing niche markets in the US and other high end markets, we are seeing relationship buying coming in place where buyers and consumers recognise that pure Kenyan coffee is far much better or superior than what they have been getting,” Njeru said.

-REUTERS

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