Coffee farmers bet on technology

Following failure of government policies to lift the coffee industry out of the abyss, farmers are now turning to technology to grow their profits.

From smart drying to new pulping technologies, farmers are keen to change the value chain with methods that will cut costs and increase income.

Gachatha Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative, after acquiring an eco-pulping machine, expects to save a third of its total cost of production annually, which amounts to Sh2 million.

“The eco-pulper will help us produce improved grades of coffee that are split. The one we were using produces beans that have been cut… This means farmers will earn more,” said Mr Peter Mathenge, the cooperative’s chairman. The eco-pulper acquired through funding by the European Union and the Coffee Management Services (CMS), its coffee marketing agent.

Mr Mathenge said farmers will now earn more than the Sh100 per kilo of coffee. “The technology will save on water and energy, and contribute to increased earnings for our farmers,” he said.

CMS Managing Director Kamau Kuria said while the old pulping system used 20 litres of water to process a kilo of coffee, the eco-pulper will use two litres.

“This is a game-changer in the coffee industry as it will save a lot for the farmers as it has a capacity of processing five tonnes of coffee within an hour. It also requires reduced manpower,” he said. “We are also hopeful that coffee will earn farmers more money this year compared to the previous year due to favourable weather that spurs good flowering and ripening of coffee,” said Mr Kamau.

At the New Gikaru Cooperative Society in Mukurwe-ini, farmers are set to enjoy early market access after adopting a greenhouse solar system to dry their coffee. While it takes at least 16 days to dry the beans in beds under the sun, the solar drying system takes six to eight days.

“We want to transform the way we process coffee using technology in a bid to reduce cost, improve quality and ensure that farmers are reaping maximum benefit from this,” said Mr John Githinji, chairman of the cooperative.

The technology means that farmers will no longer buy Nylex, a yellow polythene that is used to cover the coffee on the drying tables, and shade nets that hold the coffee to dry.

“We have managed to install the greenhouse solar systems in two of our factories and expect to expand to the other two factories when funds are available,” noted Mr Githinji. The venture has been funded through a partnership with Fairtrade Africa that seeks to have 23 coffee cooperatives adopt the technology. The counties set to benefit from this project include Nyeri, Kiambu, Murang’a, Machakos, Kirinyaga, Embu, Nandi and Kericho.

According to Mr Githinji, thanks to the system, the cooperative delivered its first batch of coffee to marketers earlier than normal.

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