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Kenya aims to double coffee output by 2020 after long decline

NYERI, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenya aims to double its annual coffee production by 2020 to 92,000 tonnes by increasing the area under cultivation and raising yields, helping bolster revenue from a major foreign exchange earner.

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Coffee. Denio Rigacci/iStock photo

NYERI, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenya aims to double its annual coffee production by 2020 to 92,000 tonnes by increasing the area under cultivation and raising yields, helping bolster revenue from a major foreign exchange earner.

Kenya, which relies heavily on coffee export earnings, is a small producer that accounts for just 1 percent of the global crop but is renown for its high quality arabica beans that are sought after for blending with other varieties.

Since production peaked at 129,000 tonnes in 1988/89 it has dropped steadily due to poor management and global price swings that prompted farmers to switch crops or even sell land. Output was just 41,000 tonnes in the year to September.

To boost production, farmers will receive training and be encouraged to plant higher-yielding plants, said Alfred Busolo, acting head of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority, which regulates the industry.

Authorities also aim to open new farming areas in the Rift Valley and western Kenya, by training farmers, offering seedlings and funding at low interest rates of 2.5-5 percent per year, he told Reuters. Commercial rates normally available to farmers are usually in double digits.

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Production is now focused in Kenya's central highlands.

"The objective is to increase from the current estimated 110,000 hectares to 130,000 hectares by 2020," he said. "Prospects for the Kenyan coffee industry are now looking up."

Analysts say such plans have been put forward in the past only to stumble due to a range of issues, including poor marketing and a failure to help farmers cope with global price swings.

"Kenya is facing formidable constraints in boosting its coffee output," said Victoria Crandall, a soft commodities analyst at Ecobank in London, citing low earnings for farmers, low yields per tree and an inefficient marketing system.

Much of the work to boost output is happening at the local level. The local government in Nyeri, a major producing region, wants to secure higher prices for the area's 99,000 farmers, although factories and marketing agents have resisted efforts.

Robert Thuo, who is in charge of Nyeri County's agriculture department, said a proposal before the county assembly aimed to boost productivity, including by providing cheaper financing.

He said, with help and the right farming practices, farmers could increase yields to 10 kg per tree from 1.5 kg.

Some farmers want the 25 cooperative societies in Nyeri to merge and improve their bargaining power for higher prices. Cooperatives broke into smaller units in the 1990s, which some blame for the slide in output.

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"If people pool coffee we can even get 100 shillings per kg," said Wilson Nderitu, a 78-year old farmer, noting he currently receives 25 shillings per kg.

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