- Post 21 February 2007
A Tour of Nyeri Highlands
It was a brisk and beautiful morning in Nyeri, Kenya as we ate breakfast near the farm house overlooking the Jungle Estate. Owned by the family of Mr. Robin Muriki, Jungle Estate is known to produce exceptional quality coffee. We had purchased their coffee through the Kenyan auction many years ago and again in 2006.
During my recent trip to Kenya in February of 2007, Mr. Muriki was gracious to invite me on a tour of coffee farms in Nyeri. As we sat around the table on this brisk morning discussing coffee, we discovered that we all had one thing in common. We grew up as peasant farmers. For me, it was cotton. For everyone else, it was coffee. John Kimondo, Manager of Jungle Estate said, "When I came to know myself, I knew coffee. Coffee educated me." After attending the university studying agriculture, John is working on special selection techniques to improve the quality at Jungle Estate to a higher level.
Julius Mwangi, the Manager of Kirimara Estate, an estate that connects to Jungle, was filled with excitement just talking about coffee. You can see it in his smile and body movements. Growing coffee moved his spirit. "Coffee is hope to the farmer..." he explained. After spending over 30 years in the industry, repeatedly winning Manager of the Year award from the estate's managing company, Julius shares how being in coffee keeps him feeling like a youth. He explained, "You can never learn everything about growing coffee".
Josephine, a long-time Jungle employee involved in administrative and project management, has worked for Jungle Estate for over 17 years. She spoke fondly of growing up working together with her family in coffee. Lydia, who's responsible for accounting at the estate, acknowledges that her job can be stressful. However, she enjoys her efforts spent managing the finances for the estate. Patrick Mwangi, Regional Manager at Tropical Farms, joined us a little later for breakfast. Patrick shared his thoughts on the evolving role of his organization with current changes in the industry.
We took a walk over to visit the farm next door where we met a farm owner known affectionately as Uncle BG and his wife, Mrs. Ndegwa. Uncle BG and Mrs. Ndegwa were happy to see us as they stopped pruning their beautiful coffee trees. The previous day, Githwaba Greens had received higher than average prices at the auction. Uncle BG was proud to show the boundaries of his 36 acre farm. As he pointed out the low lands down by the river where they raised maize, we walked and talked about the new opportunity for farmers to sell outside of the auction system. After much discussion, we all agreed that continuing to focus on quality will give them access to the fast growing specialty market. This is where there is great competition for quality and higher prices. When I tried to convince Uncle BG why he should start tasting his coffee, he said "I think I'll stick to taking beer and everything will be fine".
As I traveled around Kenya spending time with friends and business partners, I kept hearing the phrase, "Kenya is coming up." I would agree. Based on the taste of the coffee, the auction prices, farmers' attitudes, warm smiles, and encouragement, Kenya is indeed coming up. I am forever thankful to Mr. Muriuki and the folks at Nyeri Highlands for making my trip to Nyeri, Kenya, a memorable one.