KIAMBU, KENYA —
Kenya is the fifth largest coffee-producing country in Africa, but that might change. Coffee farmers in the East African nation are turning to other crops because of drought and low prices on the international market.
Joseph Wainaina, 71, started farming coffee a year after Kenya gained independence.
As a teenager, he loved to farm, and for years he enjoyed good returns. But recently, global coffee prices kept dropping, and coffee trees became expensive to maintain.
“I want to cut down coffee trees and forget about it. So that I can I continue with other projects like dairy farming, pig farming, and even poultry farming, these days even chicken makes good returns,” said Wainaina.
In recent years more small-scale coffee farmers in Kenya have been uprooting their coffee trees.
Those who have a sentimental attachment to coffee and want to continue farming it must incorporate other crops to make a decent living.
Morris Ikonya is still growing coffee, but to make ends meet for his family, he is forced to grow other crops.
“I cannot live off coffee right now. I have to diversify and do other things, and that’s how I went into mushroom farming, and I went into pumpkin farming to try and diversify the source of income,” he said.
Ikonya says he is continuously battling tree diseases and he spends $200 a month to maintain his coffee farm.
The price of coffee on the global market has dropped up to 30 cents a kilo. If they are lucky, farmers get 70 cents per kilogram.
Joseph Kieyah of Kenya's Coffee Task Committee, a body charged with policy formulation in the sector, says they are trying to help farmers increase production and coffee tree yields.
“We also proposed a three-year subsidy program again with the intention of trying to assist the farmer to reduce the production cost. Increased production such a way that, we are talking about increasing production from two kilos cherry per tree about eight,” he said.
The reforms in the coffee sector may have come too late for some farmers.
Some, like Wainaina, say only an increase in global prices could convince them to continue producing coffee.