Women, youth critical to future of coffee farming


As in many parts of the world, women and the youth play a vital role in smallholder agriculture in Kenya. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Kenya’s Arabica is considered one of the world’s finest coffees and is revered by consumers across the world. Its popularity is also crucial to the Kenyan economy, with the coffee sub-sector being the fifth foreign exchange earner after tourism, tea, horticulture, and remittances from Kenyans in the diaspora.

For more than five decades, coffee has played a crucial role in Kenyans’ lives, with the industry supporting the livelihoods of about 60 percent of the Kenyan rural population.

However, in recent times, the loss of interest from youth in farming, coupled with several other factors, including climatic changes have resulted in decreased coffee production to the current 40,000 tonnes per year down from 130,000 in previous decades.

Many in the value chain observe that to sustain its respected coffee brand in the global market, Kenya needs to revitalise the sector in all areas, including making it attractive to a new generation of farmers and more so empowering women and youth to play a crucial role in both farming and leading farmer co-operatives.

As in many parts of the world, women and the youth play a vital role in smallholder agriculture in Kenya. Unfortunately, men have traditionally dominated coffee farming, with women and the youth playing limited roles as helpers of their husbands or fathers.

This has subsequently excluded them from decision-making and seen them earn less coffee revenues in comparison to the men.

Women and youth coffee farmers in Kenya have also been restricted by arable land access. This is because land is seen as a man’s asset, and the eldest man in the family does not like to cede control or agricultural decisions to women or younger men.

Women and the youth need access to land to invest in farming and more specifically coffee. Coffee plants take around four years to bear fruit, so women and young farmers need to start planting early on in their careers to see economic returns later in life.

According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), if women had the same access to resources like land and credit as men, global malnutrition would fall by 12 percent, agricultural output would rise by up to four percent and global GDP would rise by $28 trillion.

It is important that women and the youth are not overlooked in efforts to bring back Kenyan coffee’s lost glory.

One of the ways of revamping the sector is working with farmer cooperatives to offer training and technical support to coffee households.

This would, mong other benefits, see farmers improve business skills and management know-how for running their farms more efficiently.

Increasing yield and enhancing the quality is crucial as higher production translates into more income for the farmers, which enables them to provide their families with better education, good food, and a quality standard of living.

To save the environment, farmers need knowledge on processing methods, farm waste reduction and efficient use of water.