Photographer: Juan Cristobal Cobo/Bloomberg

Delayed Flowering of Kenyan Coffee Bushes May Curb Harvest

  • Production in farms around Mt. Kenya could drop 45% this year
  • Kenyan beans are sought after for specialty drinks, blends

The delayed start of Kenya’s longest rainy season after a prolonged cold spell has curbed coffee-bush flowering and may depress production in the current crop year, according to the Coffee Directorate.

Coffee trees flower best after undergoing stress -- two months of no rain in January and February -- followed by showers beginning by mid-March. Precipitation this year only started in mid-April in the main growing regions, especially around Mount Kenya, said David Kendagor, a senior technical officer at the state-run body.

“The bushes in the main growing areas did not get enough stress to flower properly,” Kendagor said by phone from the capital, Nairobi. Production in high-altitude areas around Mount Kenya including Nyeri, Kiambu, Karatina and Embu, which account for 75 percent of total output, could fall by as much as 45 percent, he said.

Kenya crop production has declined this year because of a drought that resulted in most areas of the country receiving less than three-quarters of the seasonal long-term average rainfall, according to the Kenya Meteorological Department. The country is facing a shortage of corn, the staple food, while sugar output has dropped 28 percent and production of tea, one of the country’s main exports, is forecast to decline 11 percent this year.

While Kenya isn’t a major producer of beans globally, its Arabica beans are favored by companies including Starbucks Corp., and are used for blending with lower-quality coffee from other origins. The nation’s crop is exported to countries including Germany, the U.S. and Belgium, according to data published on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.

Discouraged by mismanagement of the industry, Kenyan farmers have neglected their bushes, causing output to fall from a peak of about 130,000 metric tons in the 1987-88 year. Production was 46,100 tons last season and the nation is targeting output of as much as 100,000 tons within four years.

Total coffee production could fall by 11 percent to 41,000 tons in the crop year ending Sept. 30, Kendagor said. A comprehensive assessment will be available in June.

Total bean sales at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange jumped to $130.9 million in the seven months through April, from $100.1 million for the same period a year earlier, because of the lower volumes expected this year.

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