Coffee farmers in Kericho County have turned to grafting to boost their dwindling crop yields.
Philemon Cheruiyot, a coffee grafting expert at Sorwot Coffee Cooperative Society in Kipkelion West constituency says after recording losses and low yields for years, they have now embraced grafting to boost their yields.
“Grafting is the successful healing of the union between stock and a scion. The offshoots or twigs growing off a plant are called scions.
“They carry a plant’s genetic traits and characteristics and determine the fruits or flowers it will produce,” he explains.
Grafting of coffee is a practice where a rootstock is desired which has better characteristics than the commercial variety (or the coffee to be produced). Disease-resistant varieties Ruiru 11 and Batian are used as scions.
“In coffee, grafting is done using disease susceptible traditional varieties SL28, SL34, and K7 as root-stocks,” says Cheruiyot.
He says coffee scions are usually sourced from a clonal garden using screened materials from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro).
Cheruiyot was trained by Solidaridad, an organisation that supports farmers in Africa. He says that grafting is done using a pencil-thick stock with mature bark.
“It’s then cut at four to six inches high and slightly slicked at the middle,” he says.
The 26-year-old coffee farmer who is among the 11 Solidaridad’s Trainers of Trainers, says the process is followed by the harvesting of node suckers.
“A wedge is then made on the node scion and fitted on the rootstock.
“The bark is then aligned and tied tightly using tape. The top of the seedling is then covered with a polybag,” says Cheruiyot.
The grafted coffee seedling is then put in a propagator and watered thoroughly and covered with a polythene sheet which is partly opened after two and a half to three months.
“The sixth step is the removal of the covers to harden the seedling,” explains Cheruiyot.
He says the seedling will be ready for planting after three and half months.
And the farmer is leading by example after planting 500 grafted coffee trees.
“In the last coffee season, I harvested 2,000 kilogrammes of coffee berries. I sold the cash crop for Sh93 per kilo earning a total of Sh186,000,” he says.
The farmer used the proceeds to buy a dairy cow and additional piece of land.
Jennifer Chemisto, a Solidaridad senior project officer says they target to improve the coffee productivity of a total of 15,000 coffee farmers in Kericho, Nandi, and Bungoma counties.
“The project targets that out of the 15,000 smallholder coffee farmers, 40 per cent of them should be women and youth,” says Chemisto.
With the farmers eying the European market, Chemisto advised them to embrace organic farming.
Paul Koskei, the Sorwot Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society chair said since the launch of the grafting and organic farming project in 2020 farmers’ yields had improved.
“We now have at least 6,000 kilogrammes of coffee cherry in our stores up from 4,050 kilogrammes produced the previous season,” he says.
The price of coffee has risen from Sh62 per kilogramme of cherry in 2020 to Sh83 in 2021 and Sh93 in the current coffee season.