Flavours of rich dried fruits make this sweet Kenyan a Christmassy treat.
This coffee was produced by various smallholder farmers belonging to the Karithathi Farmers Cooperative Society (FCS) delivering to the Kiunyu wet mill (locally known as a ‘factory’), located near the town of Kerugoya in Kenya’s Kirinyaga district.
The Kiunyu factory was established in the 1960s and is located in the Gichugu division of the district close to the town of Kerugoya, on the southern foothills of Mount Kenya. It serves the villages of Kagumoini, Kianduma, Kiambuku, Kiambatha, Gature and Kiamuki, as does the Karithathi FCS’s other factory at Kabingara. There are currently around 1,600 active members of the society, about half of whom deliver to Kiunyu factory, which is managed by Matthew Nthiga.
The area has deep, well drained and fertile red volcanic soil at altitudes of 1,500+ metres above sea level with around 1,400mm of rainfall annually. Smallholder members of this factory have access to training and technical advice in an effort to increase yields.
The main varieties of coffee grown here is SL34 and Ruiru 11, with SL34 accounting for 99% of all coffee production in the area. Most farmers in the area grow tea in addition to coffee, and many (in recent years) have begun farming tea exclusively rather than coffee. Tea is somewhat less demanding to grown and yeilds regular crops throughout the year.
During the harvest, farmers selectively handpick the ripest, reddest cherries, which are then delivered to the factory on the same day. All farms delivering to the wet mill are located more or less within a 5 mile radius and deliver to the mill via a variety of methods – including motorbike, wheelbarrow and bicycle! Cherries are hand sorted prior to pulping, with damaged and under ripe cherries being separated out from the red, ripe lots, and are further defined into lots according to quality. After pulping the coffee is fermented for between 12 to 16 hours. After fermentation, the coffee is washed in clean, fresh water from the nearby river to remove all traces of mucilage before being delivered through sorting channels to dry on raised beds.
While it is drying, parchment coffee is sorted again to remove any discoloured or damaged beans. When it achieves optimal humidity, the parchment is then transported to Highland coffee mill for dry milling and grading before it is transported to the warehouse for storage. The coffee is either sold through Nairobi central auction or exported directly to overseas buyers.
Kiunyu factory receives assistance from our partner at origin, Coffee Management Services (CMS). The affiliate members of the factory carry out all agronomic activities themselves, including sourcing seeds from the Coffee Research Station in Ruiru, and planting them out. Other fieldwork carried out by the farmers are weeding, pruning, spraying, and application of fertilizer and mulching. They have a field committee conducting farm visits to supervise that guidelines are being followed – and that coffee is not intercropped with maize and beans. The long term goal is to increase coffee production through farmer training and input access, and Good Agricultural Practice seminars are conducted year round. The aim of the partnership is to establish a transparent, trust based relationship with the smallholder farmer, helping to support a sustained industry growth in Kenya, whilst bringing premium quality to our customers, and premium prices to the farmers.
More recently the factory (with the help of CMS technical advisors) has initiated several eco-friendly measures, including a waste water ‘pit’ that filters out any damaging solids from the wet processing method. Farmers are encouraged to farm using environmentally sustainable methods and are given regular guidance in these. Measures, as well, have been taken to ensure proper processing, including investments in new conditioning bins and drying beds.
Coffee farming in this region goes back to the 1950s, but many members of the Cooperative rely on additional economic and agricultural activities for their livelihoods. In addition to producing coffee, most farmers in the area also produce macadamia, maize and dairy for sale at local markets and for their own tables.