In 1893, coffee arrived in Kenya from Brazil with the help of French missionaries, not travelling very far from the place whereby 600 years earlier it began its long journey, Ethiopia, crossing all continents and thus closing the circle.
Cultivation was initially concentrated in the Kiambu district, north of Nairobi, the capital and nerve centre of coffee production, due to the numerous structures left in place by missionaries over time. The variety produced was originally exclusively Bourbon, today still known as French Mission Varietal, one of the best available.
Up until 1950, coffee was grown in large plantations managed by famers of European origin. In 1952, the market was opened up to Kenyans who set up cooperatives to share maintenance, investment and equipment costs, otherwise out of reach for small landowners. These cooperatives are today well organized and structured, subdivided into “districts” and “farms”, and responsible for the bulk of exports.
The sales system follows a well-defined plan: every week there are more than 500 lots sold at auction, only accessible to private accredited exporters, under the supervision of the Kenyan Coffee Board and Nairobi Coffee Exchange. Recently, in light of numerous complaints made by cooperatives concerning late payments and lack of profitability for growers through this sales system, local producers were given the possibility by the government to deal directly with exporters. Since 2002, auction sales have been handled by NCE by three accredited marketing agencies: Millers Socfinaf, Kenya Planters’ Co-operative Union (KPCU) and Thika Coffee Mills (TCM).