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Kenyan Coffee Losing Out to Developers

September 18, 2011

Coffee production in Kenya is facing a major challenge brought on by increase in prosperity in this African nation. As citizens become upwardly mobile, they have more money for housing and are pushing a demand for urban homes. Though coffee has brought wealth to big landowning farmers, they are now finding their land to be more valuable to sell to developers. Everything from neighborhoods to universities and golf courses is replacing plantation land. This irony in economic logic is not unusual. The coffee crops have brought in big bucks to the producers and now the economy as a whole has improved so much that the land is worth even more for real estate development. Thousands of acres around Nairobi which once nurtured productive coffee plants are now finding their rich soil reduced to supporting real estate projects with homes and infrastructure. Much of it is owned by relatives of Kenya’s founding president and other politicians, who acquired the land from British settlers when Kenya became independent. The World Bank helped Africans buy the land from the white settlers as a way to support the new nation’s economic footing. The situation in Kenya exemplifies the double-edged sword of economic prosperity. American farmers have witnessed countless acres of prime farmland turned into shopping malls, housing developments and super highways with strip malls. The process isn’t limited to western nations. Even a small coffee-producing country like Kenya is susceptible to the pressures. The question is: When will the trend stop? How many total acres will be lost to coffee production in Kenya? Right now the real estate pressure is in urban areas. Will less urbanized areas be able to take up the slack and go into coffee production? Moses Michira wrote about this trend in a recent online allafrica.com story. He didn’t touch on future Kenyan coffee production and the effect on Kenyan coffee prices. But he did give an additional explanation for the selling off of the valuable acreages. A new constitution has been written and a new law limiting the amount of land owned by individuals will soon take effect. Farmers are selling for good prices now while they can get it, realizing they will have to give up the land eventually anyway. It will be interesting to watch to see if additional plantation acreage will be made productive for Kenyan coffee. Coffee from Kenya has a unique taste, so it’s especially sad to see such losses.






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