China Jul 12 — The paradox of Kenya coffee industry has been that while the country has consistently produced the best quality beans in the world, the locals literally do not touch the beverage.
And when they do, it’s mostly the imported brand. Coffee Board of Kenya (CBK) estimates that more that 70 percent of Kenyans who drink coffee take imported brands.
The total population of Kenyans that drinks coffee is less than 1 percent. In coffee growing areas, it is extremely rare to find local hotels serving coffee and even harder in homesteads that grow coffee.
Tea remains the most popular beverage in urban and rural areas.
This may sound unusual but Joseph Murimi, a 52-year-old coffee farmer in Kabare area of Kirinyaga, has never tasted a coffee beverage.
He inherited his 3 acre coffee farm from his late father who started growing coffee in the mid-70s. “It’s expensive in the supermarkets and we cannot get it from the local shops,” he told Xinhua in an interview on Tuesday. “We grow this for wazungus (Westerners) because we hear they like it very much.”
The attitude of farmers like Murimi is what Loise Njeru is struggling to correct as part of the bigger plan of reviving the Kenya coffee industry whose production has dropped from 130 metric tons 25 years ago to 50 metric tons last year. “One of the contributors to low production is that most farmers do not feel they own the coffee crop. They think they are producing it for someone else since they do not consume it and this affects the level of attention they give it,” said Njeru in a recent interview in Nairobi.
The result of this psychological detachment is that coffee farmers do not adequately feed their coffee stems with proper nutrition such that one stem in Kenya produces an average of 2 kilograms of coffee beans per year compared to the required average of 40 kilograms per year.
“What we have been telling our farmers is at least to produce 10 kilograms per year. This will be enough to push the country production to better levels,” Njeru said.
The predicament in local coffee consumption has been worsened by years of mismanagement of coffee marketing cooperative societies that depleted farmers’ earnings leading to low morale. The challenge of mismanagement appears to be ending with the growing awareness among farmers to demand for accountability and the growth of anti-corruption institutions.
CBK is counting on the country’s growing middle class hoping that this will eventually trickle to the other social groups.”We have launched education campaigns starting with the university students. We are surprised at the myths that some associate with coffee consumption but we have been able to clarify these issues,” said Njeru.She said the marketing budget constraint is one of the factors restricting the launch of the local consumption campaign especially among the mass media.
Last year, the CBK and other groups like FairTrade organized a competition on how to improve local consumption of coffee as part of efforts of crowd sourcing to seek ideas.The ideas presented then included use of effective promotions like promoting consumption of locally produced and packaged coffee rather than the imports and make quality coffee cheaper.
Also last year, the CBK proposed change of laws that would contribute to local consumption by allowing coffee marketing cooperative societies roast and sell their beans and the partner with investors to start coffee outlets across the East Africa region.
The model will copy that of the tea industry where factories are allowed by law to process, package and sell their tea directly to consumers, one of the factors attributed to high consumption of tea, at over 80 percent of the population.Low local coffee consumption in Kenya has meant that the country entirely depends on the foreign markets and is therefore exported to international coffee price fluctuation.
These fluctuations discourage farmers especially when the price is low.”If we would sell as much as half of our coffee locally or within the regional market, we would not be speaking of price fluctuation. Countries that have encouraged and achieved better local production levels have successfully achieved price stability, ” said Njeru.