Evalyne Nyawira with her coffee bush

Four Heartbreaks and then coffee

by Evalyne Nyawira, East Africa Youth Project

The first heartbreak; my marriage ended

Marriages end all the time, yes, but for me, it wasn’t just a marriage that ended, it was a process, a big happily-ever-after plan that had ended. Like many who had attained university education, I had migrated to the city of lights from a little village called Kamutira in Kirinyaga County, Kenya. I had a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology (IT) at Kenyatta University. I also had dreams to change my destiny as any village girl should. But the city had its trump card up its sleeve; I couldn’t secure a job. I opened a small computer shop in a mall. Nothing fancy. It paid the bills. I also got a child, a baby boy, the bouncing type, and I was happy for a while. Until I wasn’t.

The marriage that was slowly coming apart from the seams finally came undone. I became a single mother, a divorcee. But at least I was a businesswoman, right?

The second heartbreak; I lost the business

It was a bad deal. I supplied computers to a gentleman with a bad suit. He also carried a briefcase for the meeting, in 2010. (The universe was sending me many signals). He disappeared. It was a sizable amount of money and soon, my business gave way at the knees and crumbled under the rubble of my dreams. So there, I had no marriage, no business. What would you do if you were me? Pack your tail between your legs and go back home, that’s what.

Which brings me to what I had left back in my village of Kamutira. Me and my three siblings grew up on a farm; rolling green hills and sparkling streams running through valleys etc. We lived in a small wooden house. Most mornings we’d wake up to a woolly mist suspended over the hills. It was always so cold. My parents were farmers, and as children of farmers we did chores; days started at 5:30am with milking cows (we had four) and carrying the buckets of milk to a collection centre that belonged to a man who wore one hat throughout my childhood. After that, we went to the farm or school. We farmed maize and beans. Nobody dared farm coffee because coffee had a bad reputation. It was a fool’s errand to plant coffee. The industry was a mess. And so I was schooled with green maize.

I was close to my father because, growing up as the third child, my mom would leave me with him as she went to the farm. He wasn’t a farmer at heart. Father, he had lost his military job in Nanyuki after the 1982 coup and had come to the village to start from nothing. But mother, oh, she was born a farmer. 

I had a very happy childhood but going back to the village wasn’t something easy for me to do. And so when I arrived in 2012, on a chilly morning, carrying a five-month-old baby and two massive bags with all my life’s possessions, I felt like I had failed myself and my parents. I was 24-years old, confused and lost. For the next few months, I did chores the whole day and helped my mother in the shamba.

One day, I read in the newspaper that the quail egg business was doing well. So I got into it. I built a wooden structure and I started with 100 quails, then 1,000 more quails. Then the market flooded with quail eggs, and suddenly it didn’t make any business sense.

my third heartbreak; my quail business flopped

I moaned for two months. One day I read in the newspaper again (every farmer should read Seeds Of Gold, in the Daily Nation newspaper) that the money was in rabbits. So I started with 20 rabbits. Then 120. Did you also know that rabbit urine is very good for coffee plants? I harvested their urine and sold that too. The business was doing great until the company that would buy our rabbits collapsed in 2014.

I was now on my fourth heartbreak

But then something tremendous happened in 2015; my mother was awarded the Best Woman in Agriculture in Kirinyaga County. She met the president and got two trophies. Her trophies and picture with the president were placed in the wall unit in our house, for all visitors to admire.

My mom had started doing coffee when there was a general apathy around coffee. And I watched her start making millions of shillings from just two acres of her farm from 2008. Seeing her win that award lit something in me. One day she came home and told me that Fairtrade was trying to get the youth into coffee farming and were going through the parents. I had heard of Fairtrade in 2013 and their efforts to give certificates and help farmers get better prices for their coffee. Quite honestly, it seemed like a pipe dream. Anyway, remember that I had suffered four heartbreaks, I figured I’d rather just make it very messy and make it five, an odd number, by getting into the coffee business.

My misgivings were because of the apathy around coffee which I grew up with. But I was going in undeterred. I started with 300 bushes in a half-acre that my parents gave me. I planted Ruiri 11, grafted and Batian coffee varieties. Since I was one of little coffee faith, I also decided to plant spinach on the side. You know, just in case. The problem with youth, I realise now, is that we are impatient to wait the two years for the coffee to start bearing its beans. We want things to happen now; things like rabbits and quail.

After one and a half years I was surprised to get a bountiful yield. My father had gotten me a membership at Mutira Farmers’ Cooperative Society. I would get 6kgs per bush but after Fairtrade certified me, my payment increased exponentially from 20 shillings ($0.19) a kilo to 109 shillings ($1.02) a kilo. Guaranteed. The least I have earned per kilo is 80 shillings ($0.75). Good tidings followed me. I kept increasing the size of my farm and currently, I’m producing 20kgs per bush. I have also rented more coffee bushes, about 1,000 of them. I have bought land. I have money flowing comfortably. I have also convinced many youths to join this business. I have been featured in Seeds of Gold, the Standard and the Smart Farmer Magazine, publications that I read religiously. I have about ten youths who I have taken under my wings. They will soar.

Getting here has been from sheer determination, fate, discipline and Fairtrade, which in all truth, paved the way. But mostly, successive heartbreaks led me to success. I’m even thinking of marriage again.

Evalyne’s feature in Seeds of Gold

Evalyne’s feature in the Standard

Evalyne’s feature in the Smart Farmer Magazine