Aging coffee farmers concerned about disinterest by young people on the crop

Wednesday, November 17th, 2021 00:00 |
Joseph Ndirangu, CEO Starteam International Limited (2nd from left) and Jasmine Mcginnis, CEO of Barista's Daily Grind (3rd from right)

Aging coffee farmers want the government to to accelerate implementation of the ongoing reforms in the sector in order to make farming of the crop attractive for the youth.

These farmers are concern that lack of interest in Coffee farming by the country’s young generation spells doom for the future of the crop. 

Once known as Kenya's black gold, Presidential taskforce on coffee sector reforms Chairman, Prof. Joseph Kieyah reflected on the gradual dwindling production of the crop, partly attributing little enthusiasm of the young Kenyan as a reason.

"Youth participation is one of the key eight pillars in our recommendations in the ongoing coffee reforms," he said last weekend at the climax of a three-day International coffee festival in Nairobi. The reforms kicked off in 2016 when President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed a taskforce after a public outcry from the farmers. 

"We are in different stages of the eight pillars, but the bedrock is the legal reforms which has triggered some of the remarkable things you are seeing. 

"The reason this meeting is taking place is based on the pillar of youth participation," Kieyah explained. 

The meeting according to Kieyah widely explored the issue of youth participation in the coffee value chain following the realisation that the intergenerational linkage is very weak.

"An average age of a coffee farmer is about 60 years and we recommended that for us to sustain coffee farming, the youth has to be part of it," he said. 

The country used to produce 130 metric tonnes in 1995 at the height of liberalisation, but that production has been going down to 41 metric tonnes in 2016.

His sentiments were echoed by Francis Gathiga, the chairman Muranga Coffee Cooperative Union.

He also expressed concern about the youth participation in this value chain. 

"They are very impatient; sceptical about a debate that's not clear to them and the sector has not been clear about their involvement. These are the reasons youth are not keen and keeping away from the sector," he said. 

However, with the reforms, Gathiga said players in the sector are trying to come up with a programme that will bring the youth into active involvement.

"We are worried because we are getting old and we need to have a group that will take care of our coffee. We in the coffee sector are keen to address this matter because we want this continuity, and definitely with the good prices that are coming, this would be done," he added.

An Economic Viability Study on Coffee conducted by the Kenya Coffee Platform (KCF) recently indicated that 50 percent of the farmers are of 60 years and above.

 The 2009 Kenya National Population Census also indicate that the age of the average farmer in Kenya is 60 years.

But Starteam International Limited, Barista's Daily Grind Chief Executive Officer, Jasmine Mcginnis is offering a way out for the Kenyan youth.
She said in the US, coffee is a young generation thing. 

"If you can find a way to infuse that here, it will jumpstart local sales. 

"That's where the barristers come in; We make coffee cool, we make fun, make it exciting, and we care where it comes from and we care about you," she said.

Her company was at the just concluded conference and showcased its prowess in coffee brewing.

If you can allow us to show that passion of coffee drinking in the US here, we can infuse the yoiuth to own some of these coffee farms, Mcginnis said.

In the US market for instance, she said something interesting happened during the Covid period. 

"When other sectors were struggling to stay open, and it seemed that people buying coffee turned everyday events into a special occasion. Our sales increased, our coffee consumption increased as more people were home; more people were buying that cup of coffee and turning a walk into an everyday event," she added.

The task force reviewing the coffee sector came up with a host of recommendations embedded in eight (8) pillars.

The pillars include; legal reforms, a three-year coffee subsidy, gerry revolving fund,modernisation of the Nairobi Coffee Exchange, youth participation, institution support of all institutions dealing with coffee, and also dealing with debt waiver of the cooperatives among others.

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