Coffee production in Kenya peaked in the late 1980s. A harvest in the 1988-89 growing season topped 129,000 tonnes, but since then, the industry has been in gradual decline. If estimates are to be believed, just 41,000 tonnes will be harvested this year.
Commentators have pointed out that continued mismanagement is to blame, as is the volatility of global coffee prices.
In a bid to counter this downward and worrying trend, Kenya’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority (AFFA) has released details of a five-year plan which will hopefully double the country’s coffee production by 2020.
At the heart of the new initiative will be a commitment to training farmers, make more arable land available, and to promote the use of high-yielding coffee varieties. Farmers will also be able to receive funding at interest rates of 2.5-5%, much lower than standard commercial rates which tend to be in double figures.
“Prospects for the Kenyan coffee industry are now looking up,” said Alfred Busolo, the acting head of the AFFA.
But you could be forgiven for experiencing deja-vu.
At the turn of the year, the government vowed that they would “revitalise the coffee sector”.
When speaking at the 12th African Fine Coffee Conference and Exhibition, then AFFA Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei announced a very similar set of proposals to the ones outlined by Busolo this past week.
And last year was blighted by clashes between farmers and politicians regarding ownership of the Kenya Planters Cooperative Union.
Unsurprisingly, the news has been met with a mixed reaction.
“Kenya is facing formidable constraints in boosting its coffee output,” Victoria Crandall told Reuters.
Crandall, a commodities expert, also said that systematically low prices, poor marketing and a lack of government support were serious issues that the industry needed to deal with.
However, there has been some real development on a local level. The regional Nyeri government is keen on securing high prices for the near 100,000 farmers in the area. But large factories are, apparently, trying to stall their efforts.
What is clear, though, is that a lot of work needs to be done.