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Safari yields riches for Kenya coffee.

Safari yields riches for Kenya coffee

In 1962 the Republic of Kenya emerged as an independent nation under the motto "Harambee," a Swahili word meaning to work or pull together. Twenty-seven years later the spirit of Harambee is still quite evident, as witnessed by the efforts of the Kenyan coffee industry headed by the Coffee Board of Kenya. During the latest coffee tour of Kenya led by the Coffee Board of Kenya, our multinational group, composed of coffee importers, brokers, roasters and retailers, was given a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how Kenya has "pulled together" to produce a top quality product. Our group visited small farms, large estates, a research station, milling facilities, laboratories and the port of Mombasa. Everywhere we visited one could see the elements which have made Kenyan coffee a first class product-pride, cooperation, and an emphasis on quality.

The Kenyan coffee industry can be viewed as one giant company working towards common goals:-to produce the highest quality coffee and to make that coffee known throughout the world. The growers act as the product division; the Coffee Research Foundation is the industry's research and development branch; and the Coffee Board of Kenya serves as the quality control and marketing division.

The small farmers are the backbone of Kenya's coffee industry. They produce roughly 70 percent of Kenya's coffee on farms of 5 to 20 acres. Generally these farms are self-sufficient, as some space is also devoted to corn, fruit or livestock. Most of the coffee farms are located around Nairobi and in the highlands east and west of the Rift Valley. While one appears to be only in a hilly region, the average elevation varies from 5 to 7,000 feet above sea-level, altitudes which are higher than many other coffee producing countries. In these areas the typically red Kenyan soil is rich in nutrients due to its volcanic origins, and the rainfall, although not abundant, is adequate for coffee production. These conditions are near perfect for cultivation of the Arabica species which is almost the sole species grown in Kenya.

On the larger farms some processing occurs at the farm. After picking, the beans are pulped, washed, and dried either by the sun or in mechanical dryers.

The Kenyan coffee grower, whether possessing a small or large scale farm, is acutely aware of his coffee's quality as his income depends on it. The higher the quality of coffee he produces the better his income will be. Each farm is registered with the Coffee Board in order to maintain quality standards. Farmers sell their coffee to the Board, who in turn put the coffee up for auction to certified exporters. If the coffee fetches a higher price at auction the Board returns the difference to the growers less expenses.

The Coffee Research Foundation aids the farmer by determining the best techniqes for cultivation and by developing greater strains of the coffee plant. They help the grower formulate when and how much water to use, how much fertilizer the plants need and how to control pests. This latter point has lately recieved much attention by the Research Foundation, due to a world wide fear of chemical pesticides. While Kenyan coffee tests as clean by all internationally accepted standards, the ultimate goal is to use no pesticides. They have made headway through the use of bio-control: pitting a beneficial insect against a harmful one, and developing coffee strains which are disease resistant.

The Jacaranda estate at Riuru is presently testing two promising strains:- the Riuru 11 which is resistant to coffee berry disease and leaf rust; and the SL28 which will produce coffee much earlier than the standard strains, can be planted closer together and produces a higher yield.

Aiding the research scientists are agro-economists who examine the cost of production and profitability. The Research Foundation disseminates its findings to the growers through clinics, newsletters and direct visits to the farm. The farmers, in turn, contribute one percent of their revenues to support the foundation.

The Kenya Planter's Co-operative Union is responsible for the milling and grading of the coffee. Two mills, one in Nairobi and the other in Endebess process all of Kenya's beans. The beans are machine graded according to size and shape. The main classifications follow in box.

After sizing, the coffee is turned over to the Coffee Board for further grading by the liquoring department. The liquorers are people certified by the Board after undergoing years of rigorous coffee tasting. They examine the coffee in three stages- as green beans, roasted beans and in the cup for taste. The cup taste is regarded as the most important factor of the testing. The Liquorer grades the coffee for its acidity, body and flavor. It should be noted that the bean size does not indicate a coffee's quality. The flavor of a given "AB" or "C" coffee may rate higher on a liquorers' score card than a pure "AA." Reports of the grading are sent to the grower, and the Research Foundation, for their files or in case any problem exists. Samples are retained by the Board so that the grower can compare different lots.

From the coffees tested, the Board selects the lots which it will offer at the auction. The specific number of lots and their quality is determined by the marketing committee. Lot samples are presented to the dealers for scrutiny usually 10 days in advance of the auction. The dealers will compare their findings with the Board's and decide what they are willing to spend for a given lot. Auction catalogues are printed describing the lot number and quantity stored in the warehouse. The Board's liquorer will examine wach lot to ensure that the sample represents its lot and to determine a lot's fair market value for the Board's records.

The auction is held every Tuesday at the Wakalima house in Nairboi. Licensed dealers make their bids according to what they believe the coffee is worth and payment for the coffee sold is due seven days after the auction.

Kenya Emerges as Quality

After purchase the dealer receives the coffee from the Board's warehousemen. The dealer will either export the lot directly or bulk the coffee according to the customer's specifications. The lots are then sent by rail to Mombasa for export.

Because of the high standards set by the Coffee Board, Kenya has emerged as a leading producer of quality coffee. While the majority of Kenya's coffee is sold to European roasters, the best Kenyan coffees are beginning to appear in North America. As more North Americans turn to the high grown washed Arabicas for their drinking pleasure, demand for Kenyan coffee will likely increase.

PHOTO : Coffee drying at a Kenyan coffee plantation.

PHOTO : The gate to the Jacarunda Research Station at Riuru.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Wickberg, David
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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