A Comprehensive Guide on Coffee Farming in Kenya
Coffee Farming in Kenya was first introduced in 1896 by the missionaries. Coffee is Kenya’s fourth leading foreign exchange earner after tourism, tea and horticulture. The Kenyan brand is known for its flavor and pleasant aroma. It is estimated that in Kenya 160,000 hectares are under coffee, 75.5 per cent of which is in the co-operative sub-sector and 24.5
Coffee was ﬁrst grown in Kenya by Roman Catholic Fathers at St Austin’s near Nairobi in 1889. From then on it has proved to be quite popular and has over the years formed a major export commodity of Kenya. The species grown are Arabica and Robusta. The Arabica is a high quality, mild coffee much favoured for blending. The two coffee species are grown mainly by small scale farmers in the following regions:
- Central region — Nyeri,Murang’a, Kiambu, Thika, Kirinyaga.
- Eastern region — High areas of Meru Central, Embu, Machakos, Tharaka and Makueni.
- Coast region — Taita Taveta (Wundanyi area).
- Westem region —— Bungoma,Vihiga, Kakamega.
- Nyanza region — Kisii, Nyamira, Nyabondo Plateau in Nyando area and Oyugis in Rachuonyo
The coffee tree produces purple or red cherries (edible fruits). Coffee beans are seen inside them. Coffee trees are bush type trees that can reach up to a height of 12 feet. Their flowers are white in colour. Once a coffee orchard is established, we can expect coffee beans from them for up to 60 years. Generally, coffee produces its beans after 4 years of planting. Coffee plants can be grown in pots and containers and even in backyards. Commercial farming of coffee is an advisable business which earns us maximum profit.
Health benefits of Coffee
- Reduce depression.
- Natural source of anti-oxidants.
- Reduce the risk of diabetes.
- Lower the chances of heart diseases
- Promotes liver health.
- Protection against Parkinson’s disease.
- Helps to prevent certain types of cancer.
Cultivars of Coffee
Various research findings have contributed significantly to the growth and development of the coffee industry in the country. The selection of high quality Arabica coffee varieties such as, SL 28, SL34, K7, production of the disease resistant hybrid variety Ruiru II, disease and pest management and development of credible and responsive field advisory and training services, have helped develop Kenyan coffee.
- The CRF, which is mandated to carry out all research related to coffee in Kenya has various research stations within the coffee growing areas; Ruiru, Meru, Kisii, Kitale, Koru and Namwela Demonstration Plot. It produces commercial cultivars (varieties) of Arabica coffee, recommended for various altitudes.
- The K7 cultivar is distinguished by its spreading habit on young laterals although older primaries tend to be drooping. It has resistance to some races of coffee leaf rust and partial resistance to coffee berry disease. It is suited for lower altitudes.
- The SL 28 cultivar is suited for medium to high altitude coffee growing zones.
- SL 34 cultivar is adapted to high altitude areas with good rainfall. It produces high yields of fine quality coffee but is susceptible to CBD, CLR and BBC.
- Ruiru 11 was developed in 1985. It is suitable for all coffee growing areas. It is not only resistant to coffee berry disease and leaf rust but is also compact allowing farmers to intensity production per unit land. Ruiru 11 is planted at a density of 2500/3300 trees/ha compared to 1300 trees/ha for the traditional varieties. This translates into a higher production per unit area of land. The variety also comes into production earlier.
- Batian is the latest variety to be released by the CRF. It is also resistant to coffee berry disease and leaf rust. It is a true breeding variety and also comes into production in the second year while traditional varieties do so in the third year or after, hence early flow of benefits. Cherry ripening also comes earlier than SL28 and Ruiru 11. The variety is high yielding with good bean and cup quality. It is suited for all coffee agro-ecological zones.
Conditions that Favour Coffee Farming
Kenya is the leading producer of Arabica coffee in Africa. The following conditions favour its production in the country:
- Temperature – Coffee does well under temperatures of 14 to 26°C although Arabica coffee can tolerate temperatures of upto 30°C. In Kenya the coffee growing areas experience cool to hot climate ideal for coffeee growing. The temperatures average 15°— 30°C.
- Rainfall – Arabica coffee requires rainfall ranging between 1000 and 2 000 mm per annum. Many coffee growing areas in Kenya receive high rainfall of about 1000 — 2000 mm which is well distributed.
- Soils – Most of the growing areas in Kenya have fertile deep volcanic soils which are suitable for coffee. The soils are well drained and are acidic with a pH of between 5.3 and 6.0.
- Topography – The coffee growing areas have undulating landscape with hill slopes and gentle slopes. This has ensured well drained and aerated soils.
- Altitude – Most of the growing areas have a high altitude ranging between 610 m and 1,830 m. However in a few areas like Machakos, coffee is grown at slightly lower altitudes.
- Transport – The growing areas have good roads which has enabled the crop to be transported to the buying centres and factories. This has also helped in marketing of the processed berries.
- Labour – Coffee growing is labour intensive. A lot of manual labour is required for. Planting, running and harvesting. The dense population in the growing areas has provided a source of labour.
Preparation of Land, Transplanting, and Spacing
The land should be prepared by giving 4 or 5 ploughing and harrowing to bring the soil to a fine tilth stage. During this preparation, we remove any stones/debris and weeds which are present in the soil. Commercial coffee growers should consider soil testing to measure the soil fertility and its suitability. Based on soil test reports, any nutrients required should be added to the soil before planting the seedlings. In the case of adding fertilizers such as phosphorus and lime, they should be thoroughly incorporated into the soil by ploughing and disking the soil several months before transplanting the coffee seedlings in the field.
The coffee seedlings are planted just before the rainy season. Seeds are planted at a distance of 3 cm to 5 cm in rows which are 15-20 cm apart.
After growing the coffee seedlings in nursery bags, 6 to 7 months old seedlings which are about 20 to 25 cm height should be transported and transplanted into the main field. Prepare the pits in advance to loosen up the soil before transplanting the coffee seedlings into the main field. These pits should be dug 3 months before transplanting the seedlings. The dimensions of the pit should be 50 cm x 50 cm x 50 cm in size.
In regions of intense sunlight, this crop requires partial shade. For this purpose, it is advised to grow shade trees in the field.
The frequency of irrigation in coffee growing depends on the type of soil, moisture level in the soil, the age of the plant and climatic conditions. Many irrigation methods are available like drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, micro-jet etc. However, drip irrigation is the most suited method for best utilization of water and fertilizers. This method also controls weed growth at plant basins.
Under irrigated conditions, each coffee plant requires about 50 to 55 mm water and this should be applied before their transplantation.
Subsequent irrigation of 25 mm should be provided at 8 to 10 days interval. Make sure to keep the soil moist and also try to avoid too much of wetness. Excess watering can result in plant rot and fungal diseases in coffee plants.
Fertilizers and Manures
Timely application of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash in required proportions ensures best yield result.
Weed control: Weed control can be done during the initial years of growth. Chemical weedicides like Dalapon can be used for controlling grasses. Amino salt of 2, 4 –D can be used or controlling weeds with broadleaf.
Mulching: Mulching is another task which can provide weed control, prevent the crops from moisture loss and soil erosion. Other benefits of mulching include enriching the soil with nutrients, moderating excess soil temperature and improving the texture of the soil. In most of the cases, the mulching material can be converted into an excellent organic matter.
Pruning: Pruning activities include removal of dried and dead branches or any unhealthy branches. This operation may be done once every 4 years to bring the tree into good shape and to control the growth of shoots. Make sure to do this task immediately after harvesting.
Pests and Insects
Commonly found pests in a coffee field are coffee berry moth, white stem borer, black coffee stem borer, variegated coffee bug etc.
Common diseases are rosellinia bunodes, armillaria mellea, coffee leaf rust, coffee berry disease, Root rot disease etc.
Fly Picking: Generally, this is a small scale picking.
Main Picking: It is recommended to pick well-ripened coffee berries/beans. This is the main harvesting method in use. (used for bulk yields).
Stripping: This method is used for picking all the berries left on the plant, irrespective of its ripening stage.
Cleaning: This method involves collecting the fruits that have been dropped during harvesting.
Post-harvesting tasks of coffee include activities like drying, grading, packing, storage and transportation of coffee.
Drying: You can dry the freshly picked coffee beans under the sun or using mechanical hot air drying, and preferably on shade netting.
Grading: Grading of fruits should be done based on size and shape by the help of a rotating sieve.
Packing: Make sure to pack the beans in airtight baskets/containers, very firmly.
Storage: Don’t expose the beans to moisture and always keep the storage room dry, clean and well-ventilated
Transportation: All packed coffee beans should be transported with original bags by transport trucks to the coffee roasting mills or factories.
Yield in Coffee
The yield of any crop in the horticulture world depends on many factors like soil type, climate, varieties, irrigation/rainfall and garden management practices. Under ideal conditions, one can expect the best yield. The coffee Arabia variety yields about 400-700 kg/ha while yield in Coffee Robusta is 350-750 kg/ha.