Kipkelion women enjoying aroma of success from coffee


Joan Simbolei, vice-chair of Kipkelion Women in Coffee project. PHOTO | LEOPOLD OBI

Jackline Mutai is a coffee farmer with over 300 coffee trees on a quarter acre piece of land in Kipkelion, Kericho County.

Ms Mutai who began growing the berries in 2014 with only 100 seedlings says having her own trees has not only inspired her to work hard but also motivated her and fellow women to start processing the berries for enhanced income.

Located some 200km from Nairobi, Kericho is predominantly a tea growing zone. But Kipkelion, which is on the south-western part of the county, is known for coffee and sugarcane thanks to its black cotton soil.

Before going on her own farm, Ms Mutai used to farm together with her husband but the partnership was not that profitable. So she decided to have own coffee farm to supplement her husband’s venture.

The farmers sell their coffee beans to Kipkelion Coffee Mill, a factory owned and established 10 years ago by local farmers under Kipkelion Coffee Co-operative Union.

Last season she harvested 2,600 kilos of coffee berries, which she sold at around Sh50 a kilo.

“Most of the time when the cooperative union organised farmers’ seminars only men showed up while women shied away because they never saw the benefits of growing coffee despite their toil,” she tells Enterprise.

To attract women in coffee farming, Kipkelion Coffee Cooperative Union partnered in 2014 with WeEffect Agriterra, a non-governmental organisation, and established Kipkelion Women in Coffee project to not only support women coffee farmers but also help them come up with their own coffee farms.

They were then given 100 seedlings to start with. Five years after a modest beginning, the women have begun processing their coffee berries which are sold locally.

Joan Simbolei, Kipkelion Women in Coffee vice chair, says they have 92 smaller women groups with over 800 active members.

Once the women were registered in the groups, they were trained on coffee agronomy, value addition and village loaning and savings.

“Since women do not own land we had to talk to our husbands to give us small portions for farming,” notes Ms Simbolei. “We also established table banking groups.”

She says they make weekly savings within the groups and members are allowed to take soft loans which are returned with little interests. Dividends from the groups are also shared among members at the end of the year, based on one’s shares in the merry-go-round.

Because the farmers do not have land title deeds needed by credit and lending institutions as collateral, table banking groups have proved effective for individuals looking for small loans.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), points out that whereas women account for nearly half of the world’s smallholder farmers and produce 70 percent of Africa’s food, less than 20 percent of land in the world is owned by women while over 65 percent of land in Kenya is governed by customary laws that discriminate against women, limiting their land and property rights.

Data from the Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) indicates that of the three million title deeds issued between 2013 and 2017, only 10.3 percent went to women. This means that women farmers only have to access land through either their husbands or sons.

Sarah Kirui is a member of the women’s group growing mainly organic coffee at Kachawir Village in Kikelion. She says the women grow coffee using both conventional and organic methods to meet the demands of different markets.

“We found a client who wanted chemically free grown coffee so farmers in our village decided to specialise in organic farming,” says the grower who has over 1,000 coffee trees.
They grow Ruiri K7 and Batian coffee varieties.

The women say besides enhancing their coffee income through value addition, the project has boosted their self-esteem, enabling them to employ other young women and youths in packaging and marketing the products.

“Initially, we used to mill, package then sell in bulk, but now we mill, roast, grind then pack,” the women says, adding that whatever is not value added is sold at the coffee auction in Nairobi.

For conservation of the environment, they have planted gravellier trees around their farms besides using energy saving cooking stoves to reduce indoor pollution.

Their coffee product Known as Mau Gold coffee is awaiting the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) certification and barcode allocation and could hit the market in a few weeks.

The final product will be packaged in various quantities from 50grams, 100grams, 200grams to 500grams.

But as they wait for the Kebs certification they sell their products to individuals or at the coffee auction in Nairobi.

Giving the same access to agricultural resources to women like their male counterparts, according to FAO could increase the production on women’s farms in developing countries by between 20 percent and 30 percent.

This could raise total agricultural production in developing countries by 2.5percent to 4 percent, which could in turn reduce the number people facing hunger in the world by 12percent to 17 percent, the agency notes.

Joseph Kosgei, Kipkelion Coffee Co-operative Union chairperson, says the organisation has about small 32 cooperatives, with most of them women and young people.

Mr Kosgei says before they established their own milling factory in 2009, farmers had to travel all the way to central Kenya to mill their beans, which discouraged many women and youths from the venture.

“We have coffee growers wing for both the youth and women and the venture is proving quite vibrant due to the diversity,” he notes, adding the union has a coffee seedlings nursery to increase production.

He observes that milling their own coffee has improved their premium grades which also means more income.

“When we established our milling plant, the grades of coffee went up. We now have AA, AB which are the prime grades that fetch better prices in the market,” Mr Kosgei says.

“Before, farmers had lowered their grades because commercial marketers had been interfering with the grading system so as to pay farmers less.”

The factory also offer milling services to farmers in Bomet and Kericho Counties.