October 2015 - The Kiriga Coffee Estate, Kenya

The first coffee bush at Kiriga Estate was planted around 1954 by colonial settlers. At about the same time less than 10 kilometres away along the same Kigio road, a young boy Aloysius Gakunga son of the Chief for the larger Muranga, helped his father Senior Chief Ndungíu Kagori plant the first coffee seedling in the area, then known as Gaitegi village, Muranga Location1 (Loco One). A love affair with coffee had been born!!

Several years later the young boy had grown was riding his bicycle along Kigio Road and as he rode past the vast coffee estates then well established, promised himself to one day own one of them.

In 1976 this dream was realized and Mr. A. N. Gakunga as he was then popularly known.

Sadly Mr. A. N. Gakunga passed away in July 2014, by the time of his death Mr. Gakunga had passed on the mantle at Kiriga Coffee Estate and the love of coffee to Dr. Brian Ndungíu Gakunga his 2 born child and the eldest son of his six children. According to kikuyu cultural naming systems, Brian is named after Mr. Gakungaís father, his grandfather, Gatangaís pioneer coffee farmer.

  • Dr. Brian Gakunga is a coffee farmer who is well known in Kenyan coffee circles being a founder member and a former long serving Honorary Secretary of the Kenya Coffee Producers Association, a national farmers organization, that worked to promote the economic and social interests of the coffee farmers through active participation in the national and international arena.
  • Brian is also a former Board Member and Chairman of T ransitional Exchange Committee (operationally, the then Chairman of Nairobi Coffee Exchange), where over 90% of all of Kenyaís coffee is currently sold, and currently the Founding Chairman of Africa Coffee Farmers Network.
  • Africa Coffee Farmers Network represents the interests of coffee farmers, as spelled out in the organisations core objective of improving the earnings of poor coffee farmers in order to break the vicious cycle of poverty. One way of doing this is by getting direct sales for the farmers.

The Kiriga Coffee Estate sits between 1,550 and 1,650 metres above sea level and is approximately 5 kilometres from Thika town, an industrial town in central province of Kenya and 4 kilometres from Blue Posts Hotel which has the famous Chania and Thika falls. Thika lies 50 kilometres north east of Nairobi.

Administratively Kiriga Coffee Estate is in Gatanga Constituency of Muranga County and separated from Kiambu County by Chania River.

Kiriga coffee is Arabica of predominantly SL28 variety (notable for its world renowned cup quality) with an estimate two hectares of Ruiru 11 variety (improved resistant to coffee berry disease and leaf rust), some K7 variety (similar characteristics as SL28 but with better resistance to Leaf Rust compared to SL28) and a new field of the newest Batian variety.

At Kiriga all coffee activities are carried out from the coffee nursery to all the farm operations (pruning, weed control, nutrition, irrigation, basin digging, disease control, infilling, mulching, planting) as well as the wet mill operations on the factory level. Kiriga delivers both parchment coffee and Mbuni (naturals) to the commercial dry mill for milling and grading in preparation for sale at the coffee auction and direct sale.

In addition to growing coffee the estate also has, as I was told, shoats (sheep and goats), a dairy and potential to keep fish, it's all about diversity and what's more diverse than a shoat?!  The estate is also occasionally visited by two hippos in addition to some birdlife while also being the home to a family of monkeys.

During the dry season that happened earlier this year Kiriga irrigated all its coffee trees despite the crippling electricity costs involved to ensure their high standards were maintained despite the weather.

By the end of this year (2015) the estate will change the cycle of its coffee trees by removing the old heads and growing new heads that in return will give a higher yield of bold beans with the characteristic "Kiriga coffee characteristics".  Over 40% of the "old heads" will have to go! This is way above the recommended 25%, and as a result we expect to have decreased yield but with increased quality.

At Kiriga they talk about having a "Kiriga Family", 30% of the total workforce is made up of resident families who live on the estate & of these 50% know no other home.  The remaining percentage consists of smallholder farmers who commute daily and depend on the estate for survival. There are smallholder farmers who have been part of the family since 1976 and have no desire to work anywhere else, commuting a whopping 10km (or more!) daily past other estates just to work at Kiriga

Something really amazing I wanted to tell you about was the Kiriga Welfare Fund, in the past the estate saw its workers get turned away from banks when they tried to acquire loans for dealing with family issues or emergencies.  To help his "Kiriga Family" Brian has encouraged the workers over the past one year to set up a welfare group with him as its patron and Brian has provided money for loaning out to staff according to their most pressing needs.

Brian has also approached a banking institution to see whether they can fund workers to acquire dairy animals on loan and repay from the milk proceeds. Under such an arrangement 50% of the proceeds would go towards paying for the loan. A market would be readily available and the remaining 50% would be extra income to the workers.  This is ongoing and if successful it would have the effect of supplementing the workers wages and greatly improving their quality of life.

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