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New coffee variety offers bright future to Kenya growers

Kenya's Arabica coffee is predominantly produced by smallholders (WRENmedia)
Kenya's Arabica coffee is predominantly produced by smallholders
WRENmedia

Production of Kenya's smallholder Arabica coffee is set to receive a boost with the launch of a new coffee variety that is resistant to Coffee Berry Disease (CBD) and Coffee rust. Known as 'Batian', the new variety has been developed by the Coffee Research Foundation (CRF) and is reported to reduce production costs by 30 per cent. "These are appreciable savings for farmers who have to cope with the cost of fungicides and labour used to control CBD and leaf rust," says CRF director Joseph Kimemia. "Batian is also a high yielding variety with good bean and cup quality. It is also well suited for all coffee agro-ecological zones in Kenya."

Speaking to New Agriculturist, Kimemia said that Batian offers farmers an opportunity to increase their production and expand Kenya's market share in the international market. "Farmers are currently harvesting around two metric tonnes of coffee per hectare, although sometimes yields are as low as half a tonne. The new variety yields up to five tonnes per hectare by the fourth year, when production is at its peak." He added that Batian also takes a shorter time to mature, and farmers can start harvesting the crop by the end of the second year.

Well known for its intense flavor, full body, and pleasant aroma, Kenya's Arabica coffee is predominantly produced by smallholders. However, during the last two decades, coffee production has dropped by almost 60 per cent, with around 50,000 tonnes produced each year. Kenya has a popular disease-resistant hybrid called Ruiru 11, but some coffee experts say it lacks the rich aroma of the variety SL28, which was introduced in the 1900s. Kimemia said those who had cupped Batian had termed it 'as of excellent character', adding that the new variety offers a good opportunity for upcoming coffee-growing areas in the northern Rift.

Written by: Nicholas Waitathu

Date published: September 2010

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