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Despite Exceptional Quality, Kenya’s Coffee Sector Stagnates

coffee drying in Kenya

Coffee drying in Kenya. 2011 photo by Adam Posey. Licensed by CC by 2.0.

Despite Kenya’s reputation for producing exceptionally high-quality Arabica coffees, the country’s coffee sector is facing a stagnation in production amid political instability and cropland being lost to housing developments.

The latest annual report from the USDA’s Global Agricultural Information Network predicts that Kenya will export approximately 800,000 60-kilo bags in market year 2018/19, which is approximately the same as export totals from the previous year, and up about 30,000 bags from exports in 2016/2017. Domestic consumption is also expected to remain about the same.

Despite relatively flat numbers, there are a number of factors at play that are either adding to Kenya’s coffee production (new plantings among smallholder farmers seeking higher prices) or subtracting from it (larger coffee plantations near Nairobi that are being uprooted to make way for housing and other developments), according to the report. Additionally, many Kenyan farmers are also turning away from coffee in favor of other crops, such as avocados, that can fetch higher prices in the current market.

Political leaders throughout the Kenyan sector have long valued coffee as an important cash crop, yet political instability in recent years regarding Kenya’s cooperative system, cooperative marketing agencies and auction program have stifled growth. Just today, reports surfaced of a drastic revision to the Nairobi Coffee Exchange, as put forth by a federal task force on coffee. One Kenyan legislator has even proposed banning all green coffee exports.

“The sector is also beset with other challenges including: the increasing cost of labor and inputs; erratic weather conditions; high incidences of pests and diseases; competition from other farm enterprises; and poor governance of marketing cooperatives,” the GAIN report stated.

The involvement of the United States remains critically important to the health of the Kenyan coffee sector, as the U.S. has become the top importer of Kenyan coffees, surpassing Germany, over the past two market years, according to GAIN.

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