Kenya coffee sector close to clutching at straws

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“The value chains in agriculture have been having a lot of issues, but I think now there are new developments, especially the fact that agribusiness is becoming very important in Africa right now, and the whole idea of transforming agriculture into agribusiness is really the area where we need to drive growth and drive employment,” Peter Kegode, coordinator at Kenya Agribusiness and Agro-industry Alliance, told CNBC Africa.

“It’s becoming an important area and there’s a lot more focus now on agribusiness and on agriculture than before.”

The livelihoods of over 250,000 small scale farmers is now under threat, as well as one of Kenya’s biggest exports, which, according to data from the Africa Trade and Investment Exchange, accounts for close to 25 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Kegode added that the country’s approach to agriculture needed to be changed, and that the sector needed to be critically examined before introducing a transformational agenda.

Kenyan farmers have begun suffering from low prices which is due to large producers in regions such as Brazil, who sell agricultural products at a much cheaper level, and who subsequently drive the price on the market.

“There’s a number of things that are affecting Kenyan producers, and I think one of them is productivity, [which] is very low, and I think [for] any farmer who is producing coffee or tea, with low productivity, it becomes very difficult for them to stay afloat,” Kegode explained.

“Therefore, there are issues to look into deeply, the issues of the soil fertility, how to push productivity to levels that even global prices would not impact the farmer. That is really the bottom line.”

Kegode added that Kenya should in the meantime concentrate on coffee production, as close to 90 per cent of farmers are producing below average levels.

Many are producing two kilograms of coffee per tree, while some of the best farmers can produce up to 40 kilograms per coffee tree.

“When you look at a farmer who is doing 40 kilograms per tree and the other who is doing two, that gap is too great. We need to intervene in that gap and bring it down. The sooner we do that, the better,” said Kegode.