Coffee Berry Disease (CBD) strikes in Kenya and growers witness the negative effects. Above-average rainfalls in the country are the reason for the high occurrence of CBD. Rains cause fungus Colletotrichum coffeanum. And when a tree is affected, cherries blacken, rot, and fall off the tree.
Peter Njogu from Rockbern Coffee, our Kenyan partner, reports a reduced production. “It’s attributable to Coffee Berry Disease”, he says. But the trees of the Ndaroini growers have been less affected by the disease.
Farmers in some areas suffered a 50% loss on average per tree, but the Ndaroini growers only saw a 10% – 30% loss.
Dr. Bernard Gichimu knows why.
Dr. Bernard Gichimu is a Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the University of Embu. He holds an MSc. Degree in Horticulture and a Ph.D. in Plant Breeding. But besides teaching, Bernard is a freelance Agronomist.
“My research interests are in coffee improvement, food security, and climate change mitigation,” Bernard says “I assist coffee Cooperatives whenever they require my services. But I mostly work directly with farmers.”
Bernard met Peter Njogu while working for the Coffee Research Foundation in Ruiru, Kenya. Peter owns a farm, and the Foundation supplied his coffee seedlings. Soon after meeting, Peter asked Bernard to assist him with his farm. “Since then, we established a good friendship”, Bernard explains.
As Menno started to set up the Ndaroini Trabocca supply chain, he needed an experienced Agronomist on the ground. Peter knew who to call, Bernard. In February 2019, Bernard started to assist the Ndaroini growers with a strict program. A program intended to upgrade the quality and yield of the Ndaroini.
Bernard says growers face three challenges. “The main challenge is a lack of technical know-how”, Bernard explains. “Growers are often ill-equipped to manage their coffee farms. They also face challenges of pests and diseases” Bernard continues. “Especially the berry borer beetle pest and the Coffee Berry Disease are common.”
“The climate is another challenge. The rainfall patterns have changed, and this interferes with the normal coffee season,” Bernard says. “This has increased the cost of production. There is more demand for labor to carry out routine agronomic practices such as spraying and harvesting. Coffee harvesting has shifted from the earlier known peaks to almost throughout the year.”
Bernard guides the growers with proven agronomic practices. From coffee establishment, coffee canopy management, soil fertility management, pests, and disease control, coffee harvesting and processing – pulping, fermentation, drying and, conditioning before milling.
“Since most of the farmers grow the CBD susceptible cultivar, SL28, I advise the best spray program. The program ensures food safety through reduced chemical residues. But at the same time, it guarantees the yields and quality of the beans.” Bernard explains.
Bernard is frank about why Ndaroini growers escaped a heavy hit of CBD. “Those who were able to adopt my recommended program did not feel the effect of CBD. They were able to keep the disease at bay.”
Bernard’s strict program is an intensive boot camp training for all 1200 Ndaroini growers. The Ndaroini are spread out over seven zones. In each zone, a group of three agronomists led Bernard, trained the growers for two days.
The training covers;
“If the Ndaroini growers do not follow these practices, up to 50% or even 70% per tree can be affected. Besides the Ndaroini growers, I was happy to help other individual growers in the Nyeri area. Their crops were also less affected.” Bernard says.
Besides grower training, Bernard appointed 60 young adults to spay the coffee trees of Ndaroini growers. The youths followed a two-day training that covered:
Bernard is proud to see that his approach worked. “I have seen significant improvement in yields and also in coffee quality. The yields almost doubled. From approximately 588.000 kg in 2018 to 976.000kg in 2019.”
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