Coffee Crisis in Kenya

Coffee Crisis in Kenya

By Chris Kolbu

Trouble is brewing in the home of some of the best coffee in the world. Nestled between ancient mountains with a soil rich in volcanic minerals, coffee from the Nyeri district in Kenya has been increasingly regarded as some of its absolute finest. New political developments threaten to—at best—delay shipments, and at worst obliterate the diversity of the region.

Former Barista World Champion and founder of London’s Square Mile Coffee, James Hoffmann, has these observations on his blog:

Recent changes to Kenya’s political structure has given more power to local counties, and in Nyeri there has been a proposed change that is  worrying. The governor of the county, Nderitu Gachagua, has announced that all of the coffee in the region shall be milled at a single mill (called Sagana) and the coffee should be pooled and sold through a newly formed company. The logic behind this is that the politicians believe that they can achieve higher prices for the coffee and pass those higher prices on to the producers. From a political perspective it should be noted that farmers are often the target of political manoeuvring in areas where they make up a large portion of the voter base, and this is very much the case in Nyeri.

While I am sure this centralising move does have some support in the farmer base, I do not think it is in the best interests of every farmer. 13 farmers’ societies have taken this to court to get an injunction, though their case won’t be heard until February 10th. That isn’t the best news considering the harvest has started.

While it might seem callous at first glance to be concerned as first world coffee consumer, the truth is that many specialty coffee roasters pay far above the market price for lots of coffee they purchase; blending it all together into a general “Nyeri” coffee will almost wholly negate the qualities of the individual mills and co-operatives, and in turn remove the incentives they have to improve their product further. While the average price received by all farmers in the region might go up in the short term, it will, in the end, undermine Nyeri as a region for outstanding coffee, and spell doom for businesses that have been working to effect that attitude.

Update: Kenya’s Standard Digital has this article on the political row now taking place: Gachagua faces tough task convincing Nyeri coffee farmers to turn to China, US markets

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