18 May 2022
Investing in the future of coffee
A visit to Mutira Farmers’ Cooperative Society, a Fairtrade certified coffee producer group on the slopes of Mount Kenya, reveals how Fairtrade Africa’s work to propel the growth and development of young farmers is bearing fruit.
The Central Kenyan highlands boast rich agricultural land whose acidic soils and favourable climate play a vital role in the country’s agricultural and economic output. Many of Kenya’s major agricultural exports, such as coffee, tea and cut flowers are grown in this region.
In the past, coffee was Kenya’s main cash crop export. In the late 1980s the country exported more than 150,000 tonnes of coffee beans; by 2021 exports had plummeted to 40,000 tonnes and threaten to fall even further. Mismanagement, poor policies, and the ageing coffee farmer population all play a role in the decline. The average Kenyan coffee farmer is 60 years old. Most young people consider farming to be a profession for old people and have no interest in working in agriculture. Instead, many of them migrate from rural areas in search of opportunities in cities and urban centres - where they face an uncertain future. Many young people are unemployed or working in low-paying positions.
Creating opportunities for young farmers
Making farming attractive for young people is vital for the economy, for food security and for providing youth with decent jobs and livelihoods. That’s why providing opportunities for young people is a key part of Fairtrade’s 2021-2025 global strategy. As part of this, Fairtrade Africa launched an East Africa Youth Project, to create more opportunities for young people in the coffee value chain.
One of them is Naftali Wachira, a 26-year-old passionate coffee farmer who also grows tea, avocadoes and other crops, as well as practising dairy farming. He has been gradually expanding his coffee farm since he started farming three years ago, and now owns 330 coffee bushes. “It is good to do farming when young”, Naftali says proudly. “The proceeds I have earned have helped me build my own house and become independent. In addition, I have improved my farming skills through training on better farming methods, meaning I can maintain my coffee farm properly.’’
Naftali is a member of Mutira Farmers’ Cooperative Society, who have been taking proactive measures to encourage young people to take up farming. Through the East Africa Youth Project, the society has established coffee nurseries, growing new varieties of disease-resistant coffee seedlings, which have been distributed to Naftali and other farmers. With the help of agronomists, the society has also trained farmers and promoter farmers in the villages, increasing their knowledge of good agricultural practices and coffee husbandry.
Better quality and yields through innovative drying techniques
As well as investing in young people, the society is also investing in better techniques and technology.
Drying the coffee cherries is a crucial step in coffee processing. The cherries are spread out in thin layers on drier beds to dry in the sun. The society decided to use Fairtrade Premium funds to invest in new metallic driers. As well as being much sturdier than the previous wooden driers, which often required repair, the metallic driers have also helped improve the quality of the coffee beans.
The introduction of new coffee solar driers has also had a great impact on the quality of coffee produced, resulting in less damage to the coffee cherries during the drying process.
Joyce Wakio, the society secretary-manager explains further: “The solar driers have made it possible for our coffee to dry more quickly and under consistent conditions, meaning higher quality and that we can reach the market in time, thus being able to fetch higher prices.”
The good news doesn’t stop there. “We have seen a steady increase in our coffee production, from 1.5 million kilos to 5 million kilos of coffee beans last year”, adds Joyce. “This can be attributed to the agronomist support and training on farm management. We expect the yield in quality and quantity to go even higher in future.”
Fairtrade’s recently appointed Global CEO, Sandra Uwera, took part in the visit to Mutira Farmers’ Cooperative society, to see the impact of Fairtrade and the East Africa Youth Project first-hand. “It was impressive to see how Mutira Cooperative Society has set up a solid business model that directly contributes to improving farmers’ livelihoods and providing young people with a viable future,” she remarked. “I was also impressed by the extensive training and expertise that Fairtrade Africa offers to organizations like Mutira. The producer networks are the backbone of our work to drive social justice and a fair future for farmers and workers”.