In Summary
  • The 30-year-old Information Technology graduate has chosen to stick with the cash crop whose fortunes keep dwindling.
  • She is a member of Mutira Farmers Co-operative Society, which has been important in identifying and helping them access premium markets.
  • The Fairtrade standards incorporate socio-economic and environmental criteria and contain development requirements aimed at improvements for producers and communities.
  • Coffee tree training ensures more sunlight and air is allowed to get to the centre of the tree. This exposes maximum leaf surface to the sun.

Whereas many are shunning coffee production, citing the many challenges facing the industry, Nyawira Njiraini from Mutira in Kerugoya, sees things differently.

The 30-year-old Information Technology graduate has chosen to stick with the cash crop whose fortunes keep dwindling.

Her peers and age-mates see little value in coffee farming and agriculture in general. Many inherit their parents’ lands, dividing them into small portions and sell the plots for quick cash.

Nyawira’s coffee journey began in 2011 when she graduated from Kenyatta University. She remained in Nairobi and unsuccessfully looked for a job that matched her area of study.

When everything — including starting a computer business and consequently getting swindled — appeared to hit a snag, she went to her rural home in Kirinyaga to help her mother Florence Karambu Njiraini run the farm.

She initially just grew vegetables on small plots, kept quail and reared rabbits.

In 2015, her mother was among the winners in the National Farmers Awards scheme, which is sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture and Elgon Kenya Ltd.

“I was surprised when my mother won the award, which came with accolades and cash. I thought I could also achieve the feat,” she said.

Nyawira took a more serious approach in farming. To get her going, her mother gave her 220 Ruiru 11 and Batian coffee stems. She intercropped her coffee with thorn melons.

Nyawira says she did some research on better yielding, marketable and more resilient varieties and found out that Batian had the qualities.

She is a member of Mutira Farmers Co-operative Society, which has been important in identifying and helping them access premium markets.

GOOD AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES

The cooperative, which was formed in the 1950s, specialises in processing cherry, marketing its members’ produce and helping in the acquisition of inputs, certified seedlings. It also advances loans to members, Mutira co-op Secretary-General Bonface Muchiri said.

Muchiri admits that Kenya’s coffee industry faces many challenges, including fluctuating prices, unpredictable climate, insufficient funding, poor infrastructure in key growing areas, and worn out processing machines.

“A majority of farmers are elderly and are reluctant to embrace new varieties that are high yielding,” said Muchiri.

The co-op is among those working with Fairtrade, an agency that helps growers get better prices for their produce. It also promotes better social and environmental standards.

“Certified coffee organisations are certain to receive premium prices. This aims to cover the cost of production and acts as a safety net when prices fall below sustainable levels. They also receive additional Fairtrade premiums to invest in their business,” said Kelvin Muhia, a business development adviser at Fairtrade, Eastern and Central Africa Network.

Farmers are trained on good agriculture practices as well as minimal use of chemicals.

The Fairtrade standards incorporate socio-economic and environmental criteria and contain development requirements aimed at improvements for producers and communities.

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