Kenya aims to boost coffee exports with branding initiative

Coffee beans are seen at a Nairobi Java House outlet in Nairobi January 21, 2012. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya has launched a coffee branding initiative designed to boost the country's reputation for producing high-quality beans and help the industry regain its position as a top foreign exchange earner. Under a scheme set out by the government on Wednesday, bulk coffee sold to roasters will be branded "Coffee Kenya Mark of Origin" by producers and traders, with the Kenya Coffee Directorate policing the system and ensuring the beans are from the east African country. Agriculture Minister Felix Koskei said the government wanted to add value to exports through initiatives such as branding, widening the appeal of Kenyan coffee with consumers and following similar schemes used by other producers. "This will increase value for farmers, create more jobs and enhance the contribution of coffee to the economy," Koskei said in a speech, read on his behalf by a ministry official. Coffee exports, worth $254 million in the 2013/14 season which runs October to September, are Kenya's fourth-biggest foreign exchange earner after tourism, tea and horticulture. In the 1980s, the sector was the leading earner accounting for 40 percent of foreign exchange. But output plummeted as farmers said political corruption meant they were not paid and many switched crops or sold fields for real estate development. Output was 49,475 tonnes in 2013/14, down from a peak of 130,000 tonnes in 1988/89, although Kenya's high-grade beans are still appreciated by roasters who often blend them with lower-quality beans from other growers. Koskei did not give projections for how the initiative might add to exports and sales. Up until now Kenya has not branded its speciality Arabica beans, referred to by grades like AA or AB depending on size. But some producers already use a mark of origin, helping them supply coffee shop chains in the West where a premium is charged for speciality origins. ($1 = 91.3000 Kenyan shillings)