My Round: Kenyan coffee-grower Mr Karanja has excavated a well.

Now he hopes you'll dig deep ÿ into your pockets

Richard Ehrlich
Sunday 01 December 2002 01:00 GMT

You probably know that swanning about the globe is one of the perks of the drinks writer's glamorous life, and you may well accuse us of shamelessly wallowing in luxury as the guests of the high and mighty. How do I plead? Sort of guilty, m'lud. Yes, I have done a fair bit of swanning and wallowing. But there is another side to this story. The side I have in mind is represented by the tiny farm of Mr Ludorvic Karanja, a farmer near Kiambu, in the central highlands of Kenya. More specifically, it is represented by his well.

Mr Karanja owns a coffee farm, the final remnant of which still grows coffee on land passed down to him and his brothers. The red dirt of the central highlands is a paradise for coffee cultivation yet, because of the chronic worldwide depression in coffee prices, all around Mr Karanja's land the coffee is being replaced by other crops. He too plants other crops – beans, bananas, melons – between his rows of coffee bushes. They provide food for himself and his family, the excess is sold for cash in the local market.

Mr Karanja plays a minuscule role in the Kenyan coffee industry, but the industry itself plays a major role in the nation's life: it is the main export earner. And it has been in upheaval since last year, when legislation was passed at the insistence of the IMF, to deregulate the Kenyan coffee industry. IMF target: the Coffee Board of Kenya. The CBK took delivery of every bean grown there, scrupulously graded it and ran the auctions through which the beans were sold. After taking a cut, it then paid the farmers. In the interests of competition and free trade, the selfless crusaders at the IMF want to cut its influence drastically and throw the coffee trade to the dogs of the free market.

When I visited the country last May with a team from Whittard, the changes were about to kick in. While no one had any accurate idea what they would do to the country's coffee industry, farmers tended to be cautiously optimistic. Their rationale: the somewhat lumbering bureaucracy of the CBK may have acted as a dampener on producers of the highest quality, who may get higher prices now they're dealing with the market more directly.

It's still too early to tell whether they're right. In the meantime, Mr Karanja's biggest problem is his well. Not long before we visited he had sunk the well so that his employees would no longer need to use river water to wash his beans as they went through the hulling machine. But the well is 20-metres deep. He and his family draw the water by hand, with a bucket on the end of a rope. It takes five minutes to pull the bucket out – 15 litres at a time. What he really needs, he said, is a pump. With a pump he would be able to irrigate his land, improving yields and raising quality. He wants to keep his farm producing coffee and sell it for fair prices.

Well, you have the opportunity to buy Mr Karanja a pump. Whittard has bought a shipment of Kenyan "elephant ears" coffee as its December coffee of the month. Elephant ears are a botanical oddity in which the two halves of the coffee seed wrap themselves around each other in the hull. When roasted, the seeds are large and flat – thus the name. The ears may be accessed through Whittard shops, or Whittard Direct on 0800 0154 394/5.

Like all the company's coffees, it will be worth buying on its own merits. In this case, there's an even better reason to buy it. Some of the proceeds from the sale of this coffee will be used to buy Mr Karanja's pump. You have the chance to make life better for him and his family. Grab it. And please, trust me on this one. I'm a glamorous drinks writer. *

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