When Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua opened the Coffee Reform Stakeholders Conference in Meru County on June 9, 2023, he aimed at bringing various actors together to dignify the farmer through lasting revolutionary measures.
During the two-day conference, farmers painted a picture of regaining hope in the reforms because the second in command in the country had intervened. This, however, was not the case for Charles Mutwiri, aka Mkarimu- a typical small scale farmer from the grassroots- whose presentation at the Conference, fixed a visit date to his beautiful home in Imenti North Constituency- of the second most powerful person in Kenya, -the Deputy President.
Mr Mkarimu, inherited 150 coffee bushes from his father in early 1980’s. He has since grown to be one of the most successful farmers in Meru County. He has expanded his coffee farm from less than one acre to over 30 acres at his home and leased pieces of land in the neighbourhood.
As the participants of the conference went into group work to propose the way forward for the coffee sub sector, Mr Gachagua’s convoy snaked through the hills of Imenti North for about 18km from Meru Town to Nthimbiri Village.
Before sharing a cup of coffee with the Deputy President, Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza and her Tharaka Nithi counterpart Muthomi Njuki, Mr Mkarimu, who trains groups of farmers at his farm and in field visits, took Mr Gachagua on a tour of the farm why he has been in coffee farming for close to 40 years.
“I am a teacher of hundreds of farmers across the country. I have gained skills on crop husbandry because of the experience and research. I have never been formally employed; but I am leading a comfortable life with my family,” said the humble farmer.
As the Deputy President enjoyed the cup of coffee, he sought to understand more about the resilience of Mr Mukarimu.
“I started pulping coffee with a hand machine of Sh100. This was small. But nothing is small at the end of the day; everything counts. That is how I have been able to buy a pulping machine of more than Sh2 million for timely processing of the cherry,” he said.
In the engagement of about one hour at his house-a beautiful mansion built from coffee proceeds- Mr Mkarimu sat next to the Deputy President explaining how he has maintained and even developed an improved high-yielding variety from the SL28 and SL 34 Arabica of the Coffee at his nurseries for transplanting and nurturing.
“On average, farmers in Kenya produce about 2kgs per tree of coffee per year. But I have managed to produce between 30kg and 35kg from each bush in the two seasons of harvest in a year.
From his farm, Mr Mkarimu has been teaching other farmers on good production practices. He also runs a nursery from which he sells the coffee seedlings to other farmers. For his extraordinary work, he was appointed a director at the New Kenya Planters Cooperative Union.
“Coffee is a lucrative business. I am ready to be one of your student farmers. I have five acres of land on which I have been struggling with establishing a coffee farm,” he said.
Beyond training others, hehad nurtured Nixon Mukiri, a former employee of one of the universities in the country. Mr Mukiri abandoned formal employment to concentrate of coffee farming.
Mr Mkarimu’s son, son, who is at university also wants to graduate and join his father in coffee farming.
The farmer appreciated the efforts of reforming the coffee subsector adding that the earnings will triple.
After the high profile visit with the family of Mr Mkarimu, neigbours including those from the neighbouring village milled around the homestead to interact with the Deputy President and take some memorable photos.
Back at the conference, Mr Gachagua narrated to the delegates how impressed, puzzled and inspired by Mr Mkurima’s resilience and hard work.
“This coffee story is a good story if we remove the cartel nuisance from it,”. This is the most beautiful story of this conference,” the DP concluded as he closed the high-level Coffee Stakeholder Conference.