NAIROBI – Kenya researchers at the county’s Coffee Research Foundation based at Ruiru have developed a new coffee variety that is expected to achieve a substantial yield given its resilience to disease and other aggressors.
“The variety is tall, high yielding, resistant to coffee berry disease and leaf rust,” the director of the research station, Dr Joseph Kimemia told Xinhua, China news agency, in a exclusive interview.
Dr Kimemia explained the new high quality coffee – Batian – is quick to establish, producing results after 18-24 months upon being planted, in addition to being suitable to all Arabica coffee growing areas.
He stressed the variety – the outcome of painstaking effort by the researchers since the same station released the much acclaimed Ruiru 11 in 1985 – farmers will be in a position to harvest five tonnes of clean coffee per hectare.
A researcher in his own right, Dr Kimemia recalled farmers on average harvested an average of two tonnes of clean coffee per hectare at present.
“At times, small scale coffee farmers even harvest half a tonne, ” Dr Kimemia emphasized.
“It has come in handy and at the right time. The variety is also suitable for new growing areas of the North Rift and for the real coffee estates.”
Researchers estimate that farmers will be able to plant an estimated 1,000 coffee tree under an acre.
Only 540 trees are planted per acre where SL 28 and SL varieties are grown.
It is hoped that Batian will help bolster Kenyan coffee production and enable the country to reclaim its previous status in the global coffee market.
Expected to be released to coffee growers later this year, Dr Joseph Kimemia commented on the new variety’s potential to overtake Ruiru 11, at present the most widely-grown variety within Kenya.
Development of Ruiru 11 also took into consideration the importance of quality as a major marketing parameter. Since the quality of the traditional varieties was already popular among consumers of Kenyan coffee, Ruiru 11 was developed with quality attributes similar to the traditional varieties.
Currently below its predicted target, Dr Kimemia encouraged domestic farmers to boost their annual coffee production to 100, 000 metric tonnes in order to mirror the 2 percent to 4 percent increase in global coffee consumption and therefore demand.
International Coffee Organization (ICO) executive director, Nestor Osorio, has predicted that global coffee consumption — which he says has been relatively unscathed by the economic downturn — will reach 134 million bags in 2010.
Based on 60 kg of coffee per bag, this equates to over 8 billion kg of the commodity and represents a 1.5 percent increase on the previous year’s figure of 132 million bags, continuing the steady growth of the past five years.
The nation’s coffee industry research body is reported to have allocated finance to inject into the renovation of facilities and their production capacity in readiness for the release of the variety, widely expected to boost coffee production that has been on the decline.
In Kenya, the 2009 Economic Survey showed that the coffee sub- sector registered a 21.3 percent decline in production from 53,400 tonnes in 2006/07 to 42,000 tonnes in the 2007/08 crop. This was mainly due to the effects of adverse weather.
The volume of coffee produced in Kenya has been on a steady decline, from a high of 128,000 tonnes in 1987/88 to 42,000 tonnes in 2007/08.
According to agriculture permanent secretary Dr Romano Kiome, coffee production was hardest hit than tea as it is a crop more vulnerable to a persistent cold snap.
“It is probably even worse for coffee because what is affected for coffee is flowering, so it doesn’t flower when it is cold,” says Kiome.
“It may go from what we had predicted at 56,000 metric tonnes to less than 50,000 this year.”
Most Kenyan coffee is grown at high altitude and therefore classified as specialty.
Although a small producer, at an average 50,000 tonnes annually, Kenya is among other regional growers whose coffees are highly sought by roasters globally.