The latter half of 2019 has proven to be probably my most exhilarating coffee experience ever, with my last three posts taking place since September and just before that in late August, I was lucky enough on my last trip to Kenya to stop by the Coffee Research Institute (CRI). Prior to that, but of course, I had done some research on whether nuclear science and technology could be used to enhance the productivity of coffee crops and I was fascinated that in Kenya they actually had an institute specialising in coffee research, so I ensured that when I visited, I would try my best to visit. For those who don’t know I used to work for a UN organisation (until 30 November 2019) in which I was responsible for designing projects to use nuclear science and technology to address development challenges in Africa. I digress. Needless to say, the Coffee Research Institute, part of the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) were very interested to meet with me to explore how the technology could help Kenya improve the productivity of coffee beans in relation to climate change.
Located just outside Nairobi, the CRI is located in an area called Ruiru. I have heard the name before as I have seen it many times on Kenyan coffee bags. Nevertheless, as we approached, I was amazed by the sight of a huge array of coffee trees – a coffee lovers dream. We were literally surrounded by plantations of coffee as we drove up to the main building, which I must confess, looks like it was straight out of the 1960s.
As we waited in the boardroom for the Director of the CRI, Dr Elijah Gichuru, we were offered coffee of course and my colleague was stunned that I had it without sugar or milk. The Director gave us a short presentation on the work of the CRI which are as follows;
Coffee breeding – developing new varieties, resistant to diseases, but with higher yields
Coffee quality analysis, including sensory evaluation
Engineering – processing, water and waste analysis
Food safety – ensuring that there’s no mycotoxin in the bean
Entomology – ensuring that there are no pests destroying the plantations
Research focused on hastening crop development
Analysis on growing domestic coffee consumption
There was a lot more, but in short, at the CRI they focus a lot on researching coffee to make it sustainable for the future. They are even working on the hybrid of robusta and arabica, aptly called, Arabusta. So in summary it would be possible to use nuclear technology to help them especially in developing new varieties to combat climate change. From my perspective, I as thinking that the expertise at CRI could easily align with my goal of helping African coffee farmers to enhance their quality and hence command a better price on the export market.
If you are really serious about learning more, the CRI also houses a coffee college (yes, you read that right), where coffee farmers and other people from the industry can learn a number of techniques. Very tempting for me in relation to one of my goals to usurp myself into coffee, even if it’s just for a week, especially to learn more about Kenyan coffee, which still commands the highest premium price of African coffees on the World market.
As we finished our tour, the Director led us the front of the main secretariat to take a picture (top of post) as he handed me some coffee from the institute, as well as for me to actually see and touch a coffee tree.
Another highlight of my experiences of 2019 especially in relation to the future of coffee in Africa and for my personal project to try to help coffee farmers in Africa get a better price and recognition for the quality of the crop.
However, before I leave, I need to mention another experience that I had earlier in Kenya as this post is primarily about Kenyan coffee.
It is no secret that even with the people I worked with in Vienna or in Africa, my coffee passion stands out. So on one previous visit, one of the researchers mentioned that she wanted to show me something at another one of KALROs institute – this time in Nairobi itself.
What is this, you ask ? Well a coffee tree of course, but even though it is quite big, it is very special –
I present to you the oldest coffee tree in Kenya from the 1920s. But that’s not all. As I approached the tree, I noticed two initials SL – initials that I have seen many times on coffee bags from Kenya. So I asked, what does that stand for – they said Scott Labs – the original name for the coffee research institute in Kenya. That is why many coffee varieties in Kenya start with SL, like SL28 and SL34, which you may have seen many times, along with Ruiru 11, etc.
Perhaps Kenya should, if not done yet, start a coffee tour package for coffee lovers like me.
Next time you have the opportunity to buy Kenyan coffee, please do as when it is roasted properly, you will understand why so many coffee connoisseurs believe Kenyan coffee to be the best in the World.