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KENYA UNVEILS NEW DISEASE-RESISTANT COFFEE VARIETY

By NBF News

Kenya has unveiled a new coffee variety that is resistant to the two worst diseases that plague the crop, the country's Coffee Research Foundation said on Thursday.

According to a Reuters report, under development for the past 20 years, the cultivar named Batian is expected to cut production costs by up to 30 per cent due to its ability to resist Coffee Leaf Rust and Coffee Berry Disease. The report quoted CRF's Director of Research, Mr. Joseph Kimemia.

He said, 'We have eliminated disease completely. Those two are a nightmare. The cost of the two diseases is 30 per cent of total production cost.' Farmers have to spray against the disease during the dry season, but with erratic weather due to climate change, farmers can spend a small fortune protecting their crops only for showers to wash the fungicides off.

Once the country's leading foreign exchange earner, coffee has been relegated to position five after horticulture, tea, tourism and remittances, following mismanagement of the sector.

Production has fallen to an average of 50,000 tonnes from an historic 130,000 tonnes in the 1987/88 crop, but the sector is turning around after some reforms and good global prices.

Batian can yield five tonnes per hectare for a farmer following all recommended agronomical practices, compared with two to three tonnes from the current SL28, SL34, K7 varieties, Kimemia said.

The new cultivar comes into production in the second year and also has bigger cherries that ripen faster than the old varieties.

Kimemia said CRF has planting materials and offers a good opportunity for new upcoming areas in the northern Rift. Most of the existing farms are on the foothills of Mt. Kenya.

Kenya has a disease-resistant hybrid called Ruiru 11, but some coffee experts say it lacks the rich aroma of the SL28, which has been in the country since the 1900s. Kimemia said those that had cupped Batian had termed it as of excellent character.