Keeping our family coffee business picking

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020 00:00 |
An all weather road in Karunguru Farm. Farm tours immerse you into the business of coffee. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Gitau Waweru Karanja is the third generation of his family to manage Karunguru Farm, in Ruiru, which belonged to his grandfather. He shares why the farm continues to thrive five decades later.

Harriet James @harriet86jim

When 41-year-old Gitau Waweru Karanja was a boy, he recalls spending his school holidays in his grandfather’s coffee farm with his cousins.

His late grandmother would push them to pick berries to earn pocket money.

Though he took up his parents’ passion in interior design and studied Interior Design in Kwa Zulu Natal University in South Africa, he did he know that one day he would wake up and smell the coffee and participate in running his grandfather’s coffee farm. 

Gitau is the third generation of his family to manage Karunguru Farm, which belonged to his late grandfather Geoffrey Kareithi.

Kareithi had bought the 300-acre farm in Ruiru, from a white settler in 1972.

Gitau is married to Wanbui Gitau who  grew up in Maragwa, in Murang’a where they also had a coffee farm. 

Values instilled

For Wambui, despite growing up in the coffee fields, she was more passionate about tourism and was a travel consultant before becoming a tour manager at a local company.  

In 2012, she got an ectopic pregnancy, which put her on bed rest and thus was compelled to quit her job. When she recovered, she began assisting her husband.

“By that time, my husband was selling modern house doors, but the business took a while to pick.

Then we began selling milk from Karunguru Farm, but the milk production went down in 2016.

The management, comprising of family members, told us to address the issue by becoming dairy managers.

But when we joined the management of Karunguru Farm, we saw an opportunity in coffee tours,” she says. 

Taking cue from South Africa where they do wine tourism and also export wine, Gitau and his wife sought to use that knowledge in their coffee farm.

“We started Karunguru Coffee and Tours after we found out that despite it being our main export, it was being underutilised when it comes to tourism.

So, here we take visitors through the journey that coffee has to go through before getting to your cup,” explains Gitau.

Everything is done in Karunguru Farm— including  value addition such as processing coffee, drying and even roasting.

“We have our very own packaged Karunguru Coffee, which is available in the market,” he adds.

Gitau Waweru and his wife Wambui Gitau. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Their late grandfather instilled in them a love for each other and every holiday it is the family culture to meet and bond as a family.

The grandpa also ensured that the farm management is shared amongst all his seven children who meet every week to discuss the business of the farm.

Once they come to an unanimous decision, it is then passed on to their children, who implements their decision. 

Before one is given any role, you have to be qualified for the position. “It’s not about being favoured, but your qualification.

I am in tourism, so I handle the tourism aspect, my husband is in operations.

In fact, one applies for the position and then you are interviewed. If you qualify, you are placed on probation until the management is satisfied that you can handle the role well,” says Wambui.

No entitlement

What makes family business go down is the fact that people who are less qualified are employed.

Other people have to cover up for their messes and this creates bitterness and conflict.

Gitau sometimes watches his nephews and nieces in the farm, giving them roles to check out whether they have interest in the farm or not before beginning to mentor them.

Everyone begins from the lowest level and must know how to roast, pack, as well as prepare a cup of Karunguru coffee.

This is to en inculcate the spirit of appreciation and value for the workers employed to do the role.  

“My uncles always tell us that we didn’t come in the business because we are their children, but because of the passion we had in the business.

With that, entitlement is killed and we ensure that we do our best to take the farm to higher levels,” says Gitau  

They don’t entertain gossip, but if someone has an issue, then the person is invited to a meeting where one is confronted and told in love where they have missed the mark. 

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