Thirty one per cent of coffee farmers in the country are Standard Eight dropouts, a new study says.
The survey carried out in all the 31 coffee growing counties also established that 66 per cent of farmers have managed to get education beyond secondary school level.
The sub-sector is also dominated by men who stood at 83 per cent while 17 per cent are women. The ratio of youths (18-35 years) stands at five per cent whereas that of 35-60 years is at 45 per cent.
Fifty per cent of the farmers, according to the findings, are of 60 years and above.
The findings are contained in a survey conducted by the Kenya Coffee Platform (KCF) dubbed Economic Viability Study on Coffee.
Dr Joseph Kimemia, the chairman of KCF, said the analysis was conducted in 40 coffee co-operatives and the team managed to interview more than 300 farmers from all coffee producing counties based on production levels.
The survey, that took three months, was aimed at checking the status of farmers and where the government needs to collaborate with them to improve their lot.
The study also checked on how coffee production needs to be increased as well as improve processes at co-operatives.
“Farmers’ cries and the dwindling coffee production in the country prompted us to carry out this study,” said Dr Kimemia as the team presented the findings to Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri in his office in Kilimo House last week.
The chairman, however, said coffee production has been decreasing because of the high number of farmers who are semi-illiterate and the old who are not ready to let go their bushes.
Many of the farmers who are old, he said, have turned coffee farming as their retirement package and are not willing to have their children control production.
At the same time, the team also established that nearly 90 per cent of the coffee bushes were planted during the colonial era and farmers are not willing to uproot them and replace them with the new high-yielding varieties.
“If we can have youth indulge in coffee farming, it will be easy for them to increase production since they will agree to farm the new varieties that are of high-yielding as well as disease tolerant,” said Dr Kimemia.
“The old are reluctant to accept change and what they are doing is forcing the already worn-out bushes to yield more. Imagine if the young people, after finishing their degrees, returned to the farms to put their newfound knowledge into practice. Imagine if they aspired to be producers, roasters, exporters and baristas — and they studied to advance those careers,” he added.
He told participants during the two-and-half hour meeting that currently, the country’s annual coffee production stands at 40,000 tonnes compared to neighbouring Ethiopia which is doing half a billion tonnes.
Dr Kimemia said Ethiopia has already managed to get the lion’s share of the local market since 50 per cent of its production is consumed locally.
Uganda, at the same time, has beaten Kenya in terms of production doing 250,000 tonnes (four million bags) per year.
The country now targets to hit 20 million bags by 2022 while Kenya aims at 100,000 tonnes by the same year.
In 1988-1989, Kenya managed to produce its highest production of 130,000 metric tonnes, a figure that has not been realised since.
Although farming of the once dubbed ‘black gold’ is dominated by men, the report indicated that 65 per cent of the farmers are above the economically viable production level of 3-5kg per tree.
Some 39 per cent are, however, unable to produce more than two kilos of cherry and when they calculate their cost of production, they end up registering a big loss.
The team, however, proposed that the solution to end coffee industry from struggling is ‘education’.
“It is time we sensitise our farmers and convince the old to involve the younger generation in coffee farming, otherwise we will continue to lose this battle,” said Mr George Watene a member of the KCF team.
In order to meet the ‘Kahawa Bora, Maisha Bora’(Quality Coffee, better life) goal set by the Ministry of Agriculture, the committee also proposed the planting of massive replacement of the ‘colonial era’ bushes with new varieties that are immune to diseases (coffee leaf rust and coffee berry disease) and are high-yielding.
Mr Watene said the team also established that prevailing coffee prices, currency exchange rate, drought, pest and diseases are some of the major external factors affecting farmers’ payout. However, production, cherry to clean ratio, quality, farm level, processing cost, administrative costs, and corporate governance are the internal factors affecting them.