YOUNG FARMERS DRIVE THE DEVELOPMENT
Kenya is considered as one of the World's leading coffee origins. For more than a century, the East African country has enriched the world's coffee lovers with unique flavors and coffee of a very distinctive character. But the Kenyan coffee production is threatened. Since the heydays in the nineties, the country's coffee production has fallen to a quarter, and the young coffee farmers disappear because they find it hard to see a future in coffee. With the initiatives in Next Generation Coffee, young coffee farmers go first in the battle to reverse the trend.
We have traveled into the highlands of Kenya, where the coffee fields and Othaya cooperative stretch on Mount Kenya's slopes. The drive from Nairobi is approximately 3 hours of hilly and bumby country roads. As we approach the destination, the vegetation becomes greener and the coffee fields battle the place with fertile tea fields, avocado, banana palms, sugar cane, corn and all-around appetizing crops. We are in what the Kenyans proudly call Africa's vegetable garden.
A sad history
With its 15,000 registered coffee farmers, Othaya is the largest coffee cooperative in Kenya. A cooperative that has been at the forefront of the conversion to, among other things, Fairtrade certified coffee and a cooperative who, with ambitious goals, have set themselves to reverse the general development of the country's endangered coffee industry. We were here for the first time in 2012. At that occasion we were greeted by an aging assembly of coffee farmers who all had the impression of having the future behind them. A sad group of old women and men, all of whom recognizing that coffee production was left with no no future. Their businesses were about to join them into the graves.
Their sons, daughters and the region's youth had lost the motivation to grow coffee. The economic foundation was gone. Access to education and financial resources for young farmers did not exist. Instead, the coffee farmers - young as old - were left to themselves and consequently average age of Kenyan coffee farmers had reached an all-time high at 63 years(!). The region's youth was emigrating to the cities with dreams of a golden future. Often without any base such as education or social security net, and not rarely with a life in the city's slums to follow.
An opportunity in life
Today, six years after our first visit to Othaya we are wellcomed by Mariam Nyawira. Mariam is a 27-year old woman and one of the young people who have gone against the stream and today proves that there is a future in coffee. Throughout her life, Mariam has dreamed of creating her own life and business, and she is well on her way: "When I became affiliated with the Next Generation Coffee project (“Coffee for a better future") it opened a fantastic opportunity for me. I felt here was my opportunity and I would not miss that," says Mariam Nyawira. Since the project's start in 2013 she has been associated with Othaya Farmers Co-op Society as a lead trainer. It is Mariam's task to organize, hold and report the many field schools held in the fields of the Othaya farmers.
"Knowledge and education are the way forward. I experience that in my work with the coffee farmers. Those who work purposefully and follow the field schools, they are also successful. When I was selected for the scholarship and got the opportunity to go to university, I became so happy. My family is also very proud of me," says Mariam with humble pride. She would like to lead the way for other youngsters too. "Many of the older farmers are not prepared to learn. It is the young people who are going to drive the development. I would like to go first. That's why I borrowed money and now lease my own coffee fields. I hope to afford to buy my own land at some point. But now I can create my own business, and at the same time I can show the way for other young people. I think that's very inspiring," says Mariam Nyawira.
The benefits of Next Generation Coffee
In the same way as with Mariam, 20 talented youngsters have received scholarships for The Kimathi University in Nyeri and more than 5,000 coffee farmers have received education in agricultural practices at field schools within the cooperative. Efforts that have made the youngsters return. Back to Othaya and back to a life and career as a coffee brewer.