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Bitter coffee in Kenya... one family’s story…


Bitter coffee in Kenya... one family’s story…

Stephen Mahia, 10, is one of the new generation of Kenyan children who cannot go to primary school. Ten years ago, this was almost unheard of in Murang'a District, Stephen's home, where for generations there has been a passionate hunger for education. Cash from growing coffee helped build the primary and secondary schools, and pay for the children to attend them. But over the last five years world prices have fallen.


Photo inset: Niassia Duta weeds her coffee plot

Normally, Kenyan beans fetch one of the highest premiums on the world market. The average 1997 price at the Nairobi auction was 243 Kenyan Shillings (KES) per kilogram (AUS$5.70). However, the provisional figure for 2000 is $2.70 per kilogram. Prices at auction remain much the same today, averaging about $2.80 per kilogram in May 2002. While those who buy, mill, truck, market, ship, roast and sell the coffee still make their profits, the farmers in Central Province have not been paid. In 2002, Stephen was sent home from primary school because he was unable to pay his fees. His brother Samuel Boro, 8, has been unable to even start at school.

Each year Stephen and Samuel's mother, Niassia Duta, picks the red cherries (from which the coffee beans are derived) from 200 coffee bushes on her hillside shamba (plot). But since 1996 Niassia has received no more than 6 or 7 Shillings (14 or 16 cents) for each kilogram she has taken to her local Co-operative Society factory in Makungu.

"Without coffee, I can only earn money by labouring, weeding, hoeing, carrying manure - 60 KES ($1.40) for working from 8 to 4pm, even to 5pm. But these days I can go a week without finding a job. The employers no longer have cash to pay."

In the shops at her local trading centre, a tin of Nescafé Classic, made from poorer quality robusta coffee imported from the Ivory Coast, and packaged in Nairobi, sells for $6.20 for 200 grams. Niassia only receives 2-3% of the final selling price of her coffee.

Niassia poured some Kenyan beans from a foreign supermarket shelf into her hand. "It looks like our coffee and it smells like our coffee. But with this price it must be something different. Our coffee only has to be heated to look like this. Why is it - when we have this fertile land, with good sun and good rain, and can grow these crops - that you are rich and we are poor?"

Stephen busied himself weeding the maize. "I do some digging and fetch grass and water, but I get very bored. I'd like to go back to school. I feel left behind when the others go. They will be able to do things that I can't do."


Note: AUS $1= 43 Kenyan Shilling (KES)

For further information, interviews, footage, photograph and case studies,
contact Carly Hammond at Oxfam Community Aid Abroad on (61)(3) 9289 9413 or (61) 409 181 454.

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