How Ndaroini growers started a coffee revolution in Kenya

Our team has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of this coffee since we visited Ndaironi during our origin trip to Kenya back in 2019, before the whole world shut down. Not only is it absolutely delicious, but it also represents a sustainable and fair sourcing model that is so much needed in Kenya.

Kenya is famous for its bright coffees with lively blackcurrant profiles. This outstanding Kenyan has a bold body and sparkling acidity. It features flavours which have been missed in the coffee industry because of a rotten supply chain.

Coffee is the third biggest export crop in Kenya and is vital to the country’s economy, with 75% of all Kenyans involved in the agricultural sector. Amazingly, 99.63% of Kenyan coffee is grown by over 800,000 smallholders. Unfortunately, the majority of them are struggling to make a living of it.Perfect conditions for unique flavour profiles

Nyeri is a hub for producing and trading coffee and tea - there are many washing stations in the area and a great community of farmers, processors and agronomists who know how to cultivate great coffee.

Together with our amazing local guide, Peter Muchiri, we headed up to the mountains to meet the producers. Peter is the General Manager of Rockbern Coffee and works closely with producers. Peter is also the son of a coffee farmer. Our goal was to learn as much as we could about coffees we source so we can share the incredible stories of the people behind it with you.

Peter gave us an honest insight into what’s fundamentally wrong with the industry.How to bring Kenyan coffee back on track 

The FOB price paid for Kenyan coffee is amongst the highest in the world, but in many instances this money doesn't trickle down to compensate the farmers. The result? We've seen a decline in the quality of Kenyan coffee and more farmers giving up on coffee production.

The farmer often receives only 10% of their payment when cherries are delivered at local processing stations. The rest is paid as 8 months later which leaves them without income for months. On top of that, 20% of the net income is deducted by cooperatives to cover fertilizers, finance and storage costs.

If you ask the farmer how much money they earned or when they’re expecting it, their honest answer will be “I don’t know”. People can’t make a living from coffee production and care for their families without debts from loans. 

The main issue in Kenya is an unhealthy distribution of power that leaves the farmers in a very weak position to negotiate. The dry mill, marketing agent, exporter and importer are often all part of the same cooperative and use that to monopolise and drive up the price of coffee. Which means - no transparency at all.

It is perhaps no surprise that many young people in the region see no future in farming coffee. The average age of a coffee farmer is 60 years.The incredible story of empowerment at Ndaroini 

Ndaroini coffee was produced by 1400 smallholder farmers, each with ¼ hA lots in the highlands of Nyeri who live near the washing station. We first cupped it in the region it was grown - the most special way to do it. 

Ndaroini is a true feel-good story that is changing the Kenyan market.

The Ndaroini farmers parted from the Gikanda Cooperative Society and became a collectively owned public limited company in January 2019. Each farmer owns 10 shares, they have an annual election and vote for their chairman and committee.

They are also the best paid growers in Kenya, getting Ksh 100 (equal to $1.00) per kilogram of coffee cherries instead of the average Ksh 60 before deductions. The Ndaroini growers started calling this the Kenyan Coffee Revolution.

Here are some of the beautiful growers we met.

The positive impact of growers becoming the owners was incredible: they doubled their production in 12 months and grew with 200 new members. We could feel their pride every second as we walked through their garden lots, smiles accompanying us everywhere. In addition to producing coffee, most farmers in the area also produce macadamia, maize and dairy for sale at local markets and for their own tables. 

Josef, the current Chairman, told us how all farmers pay stringent attention to cultivation methods and regularly apply compost and farmyard manure to ensure soil fertility. Uniformity is a big priority - if they harvest the trees, all trees must be harvested at the same time. Soon they’ll go full organic as the trees are well fed from the mineral soils from Mount Kenya and don’t need any fertilisers.There is hope to the future of Kenyan coffee. The change in the system attracts young people between 18 - 35 again. Young growers bring innovation and new energy. At Ndaroini, 50% of the smallholder farmers are women and 50% is youth. 

It’s important to us to build strong, meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with producers based on trust, openness and respect. Hopefully the borders will open again soon and we'll be able to head out on more origin trips like this one. It allows us to better understand the complexities and challenges in the communities and get an understanding of how we can best support them. The joyful conversations to be had is just the icing on a cake.

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