Kenya and Tanzania will face differing fortunes in their 2015/16 coffee seasons as East Africa prepares for the impact of a strong El Niño. The weather phenomenon typically brings torrential rains and flooding to East Africa, and there are growing concerns that these could severely impact Kenya’s coffee sector, preventing flowering and causing a proliferation of fungal diseases, such as the coffee berry disease.
This would add to the sector’s existing woes, which include the loss of coffee plantations to real estate development and low prices, which have driven farmers out of coffee into more lucrative cash crops. An ongoing dispute between county governments and the agriculture, fisheries and food Authority (AFFA) over the collection of marketing licence fees is also weighing on the sector.
Although the Constitution Implementation Commission has ruled that the collection of these fees is within the jurisdiction of county governments, in line with the government’s decentralisation plan, the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) is only accepting AFFA-issued permits. This could disrupt the flow of beans to the exchange—Kenya Planters Co-operative Union has already found itself blocked from the NCE which will not accept its Nairobi county-issued licence. These constraints, coupled with possible floods, could undermine efforts to boost production by 5.9 percent in 2015/16, to 900,000 60-kg bags.
The outlook is brighter for Tanzania’s 2015/16 crop (July-June). The US department for agriculture (USDA) has forecast that production will surge by 16.5 percent to a record high of 1.2 million bags as output from recently matured farms reaches the peak of the ‘on’ cycle of the Arabica crop. However, the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) estimates indicate that 2014/15 was an ‘on’ season (completing a pattern of ‘on’ and ‘off’ seasons stretching back a decade), which could presage a fall in production in 2015/16 as the crop enters an ‘off’ cycle.
Output should be supported by the relatively light impact of El-Niño related flooding, which is more likely to affect the coastal regions. Nonetheless, volumes could be constrained by rampant smuggling in the Kagera region (which produces a quarter of total production) to Uganda, as farmers search for better prices. It is estimated that at least one-third of Kagera’s 10,000 tonnes of coffee is being sold across the border, severely impacting the volumes available for export from Tanzania.