For several years, Mary Muchemi has been planting maize tirelessly on their 52-acre Sugoi farm in Uasin Gishu County. However, due to poor prices she shifted to the coffee since 1982 and she has never looked back since then.
Most farmers in the North Rift region have planted the maize crop for many years despite price fluctuations thanks to brokers and flooding of the grains from neighbouring countries.
“Back then, just like now the maize prices were poor going as low as Sh500 per 90-kilogramme bag. This motivated us to shift to this crop,” says Mary.
They planted up to 70 acres under maize but they have reduced the acreage under the crop to 20 acres. They started planting the SL28 variety on part of six acre parcel of land and over the years (each year planted six acres) they have been able to increase them to now 45 acres.
“Coffee is better since once you have planted you don’t need to re-plant like maize and other crops. You just prune or cut the branches for new cycle,” explains the farmer.
From each tree, they get on average 30 kilogrammes of berries and in total between 25 and 40 tonnes in a year from the farm. The coffee is graded into about seven categories depending on the size of berries.
“We have a guaranteed market is good. Once, we harvest we take them to Rupa in Eldoret town. There is no single day, we have been told, that they are not taking them,” says Mary.
In the last two decades, the farm has shifted to the disease tolerant Ruiru 11 variety that occupies most of their Sugoi coffee farm.
To grow the plants, they use 18 kilogrammes of farmyard manure and then mix with top soil before placing it in the hole. And it takes three years before one can start to harvest the berries.
“After five to seven years we start to change the cycles by cutting old tree to give room for the new plant. When the plants grow old it becomes more susceptible to diseases,” notes Mary, adding that the farm employs up to 40 workers since one acre require one individual.
He says that to attain good sizes they do regular pruning between February and March as well as removing weeds. They also spray the crop and add CAN fertilizer.
She advises that farmers who want to venture should start small and slowly increase the size of acrage with time.
Some of the notable challenges on this farm are the leaf rust and the coffee berry disease (CBD) that attacks the crop.
“When the crop is attacked by CBD, the berries turn from green or red to black and then they fall. On the other hand, leaf rust makes the leaves to wilt and this means you will not get good produce,” explains Robert Ndungu, the farm manager.
He says that there is guaranteed and steady market for the coffee crop. They sell their produce to Coffee Mills Services based at Rupa in Eldoret town. For instance, the AA or AB grades can fetch up to Sh200 per kilorgamme while E which is the lowest grade earns Sh70 per kilogramme, depending on the global market coffee prices.
Luka Rotich, the assistant director in-charge of coffee production in Uasin Gishu County, observes that farmers need to get right the agronomical practices and nutritional to attain higher yields.
“Farmers can intercrop with macadamia or Gravelia to have the shading effects since this region witness long period of dry spell. With Macadamia, they will also increase their earning by Sh300, 000 per acre,” said the expert, adding that the spacing should be increased from nine by nine to 15 to 15 when intercropping with macadamia.
He notes that there is increased the number of farmers growing the crop due to high return from end of last year from 530 acres to 702 acres.
“With the proper processing of the coffee berries, the farmer will able to attain right quality which in turn, they will be able to fetch higher monies at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. For instance, from seven kilogrammes of berries one can get one kilogramme of clean coffee beans (final processed product),” said the coffee expert.
In the past two years, the farm has become a popular spot for farmers from various counties in the North Rift region as they flock the farm to pick lessons on how to grow the crop in their farms.
The devolved unit, he added, has bought 200 kilogrammes of seeds from Coffee Research Institute for propagation to attain 600,000 seedlings to be distributed to the farmers.