After the failure of government policies to lift the coffee industry from the brink, farmers are now turning to technology to increase their profits.
From smart drying to new digestion technologies, farmers want to transform the value chain with methods that reduce costs and increase income.
The Gchatha Coffee Farmers’ cooperative expects to save a third of its total production costs annually after purchasing an eco-digesting machine, which amounts to Sh2 million.
“The eco-pulper will help us produce improved grades of coffee that will be shared. The one we used produces cut beans … That means farmers make more money,” said Peter Mathenge, chairman of the cooperative. The eco pulper was acquired through funding from the European Union and Coffee Management Services (CMS), its coffee marketer.
Mr Mathenge said farmers are now making more than the Sh100 per kilo of coffee. “The technology will save water and energy and add more income to our farmers,” he said.
CMS CEO Kamau Kuria said that while the old digestion system used 20 liters of water to process one kilo of coffee, the eco-pulper will use two liters.
“This is a turning point in the coffee industry as it will save a lot for farmers as it has a capacity of five tons of coffee in an hour. It also requires fewer staff, ”he said. “We also hope that the coffee farmers will bring in more money this year than last year due to the favorable weather, which promotes good flowering and ripening of the coffee,” said Kamau.
At the New Gikaru Cooperative Society in Mukurwe-ini, farmers will have early access to the market after installing a greenhouse solar system to dry their coffee. While the drying of the beans in beds under the sun takes at least 16 days, the solar drying system needs six to eight days.
“We want to transform the way we process coffee with technology to cut costs, improve quality and ensure farmers get the most out of it,” said John Githinji, chairman of the cooperative.
The technology means farmers will no longer buy Nylex, a yellow polyethylene used to cover the coffee on the drying tables, and no more shade nets that hold the coffee in place to dry.
“We have managed to install the greenhouse solar systems in two of our factories and are expected to expand to the other two factories when the funds become available,” said Githinji. The project was funded through a partnership with Fairtrade Africa, which aims to have 23 coffee cooperatives adopt the technology. Counties that should benefit from this project include Nyeri, Kiambu, Murang’a, Machakos, Kirinyaga, Embu, Nandi, and Kericho.
According to Githinji, thanks to the system, the cooperative was able to deliver its first batch of coffee to marketers earlier than normal.