Kenya coffee firms voted world’s best

Saturday May 16 2015

Workers sort coffee parchment at award-winning Gachatha Coffee Factory in Nyeri County this week. The popularity of Kenyan coffee follows concerted efforts to increase acreage and research on new varieties. PHOTO | FILE |

Workers sort coffee parchment at award-winning Gachatha Coffee Factory in Nyeri County this week. The popularity of Kenyan coffee follows concerted efforts to increase acreage and research on new varieties. PHOTO | FILE |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By JAMES NGUNJIRI
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By JAMES KARIUKI
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Four Kenyan factories have been named among the world’s best speciality coffee producers at a bi-annual sampling event featuring 49 top-end samples.

Gachatha Coffee Factory in Nyeri clinched the first position among the top 10 coffees dominated by Kenyan produce that also included coffee from Gicherori, Kamwangi and Ngerwe farms.

The Rainforest Alliance released the detailed scores at its bi-annual “cupping for quality” event that featured 49 coffee samples from Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Rwanda. These were reviewed by a panel of expert cuppers hosted by Balzac Brothers at their SCAA-certified lab in Charleston, South Carolina.

Gachatha, with 1,086 farmers each with an average 200 coffee trees, scored 88.68 points, while Embu County’s Gicherori and Kirinyaga County’s Kamwangi were tied at 85.25. Ngerwe, also from Embu County, scored 84.89.

The four farms were recognised for helping small-scale farmers earn handsome returns through sustainable farming practices that are required for Rainforest Alliance certification to ensure a better-tasting cup of coffee.

“It is no surprise to see the quality of coffees evaluated at our cupping events improve year after year,” said Alex Morgan, senior manager of sustainable agriculture at Rainforest Alliance.

Gachatha Farmers Co-operative Society chairman Peter Mathenge said the good results resulted from good management practices. He added that through their partners Coffee Management Services (CMS) farmers have been taught to observe good agriculture management practices at the farm level which has led to good coffee quality.

“When we sell our coffee, we are open with our farmers and we don’t hide anything. This made us be awarded a certificate for the most efficient company in 2013/2014 coffee year in Nyeri County, having paid 94.3 per cent of sales proceeds,” he said.

FAR BETTER EARNINGS

During the 2014 crop year, their turnover was Sh42 million from 472,550kgs of coffee. The earnings were far better than those of the previous year, with a Sh80 per kilo production cost and an 8.5 per cent operation cost.

But the chairman said there was a drop in production last year due to a prolonged dry spell resulting in crop failure. But despite this, the farmers obtained the lion’s share from income generated.

“The previous year farmers got Sh75 per kg after generating Sh42,591,417 from 530,028kgs. The factory’s operations cost was left with 5.7 per cent. And last year, we attained Sh41,858,636 from 472,550kgs, giving our farmers Sh80 per kg with 8.5 per cent being set aside for operations cost,” he said.

The Co-operatives Act stipulates that 80 per cent of a society’s total sales go to the farmers, leaving the society with 20 per cent. But at Gachatha, the society itakes less than 10 per cent which the management says is sufficient to run the society effectively.

“We have nine committee members, and this is our third year in office,” Mr Mathenge said.
Nyeri County Agricultural Chief Officer David Nyaga backed this up, saying this year coffee production in Nyeri is expected to go up by at least 30 per cent.

He said the rise was being attributed to an increase in the number of coffee farmers who purchased subsidised fertiliser from the county. “As of now, 60,000 coffee farmers have purchased the fertiliser, compared with last year’s 23,299 farmers,” he said.

Last year farmers at Gachatha Coffee Factory received 600 bags of subsidised fertiliser from the county government at a cost of Sh2,350 each. Last year, farmers with the highest production pocketed Sh760,000 from 7,012 kgs the management said.

“Our farmers have confidence in the management and that is why they didn’t take their coffee to the county government for joint milling and marketing,” he said.
Most Gachatha coffee farmers manage to produce an average of 3,000-4,000 kilos per year.

The factory was Rainforest Alliance-certified on April 1. AfriCert Ltd declared production of the coffee had complied with sustainable requirements in accordance with the farm and group administrator certification policy of January 2013 standards for sustainable agriculture, a version of the July 2010, Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) group standards — March 2011 — and had complied with a list of prohibited pesticides of November 2011.

When the Sunday Nation team visited the factory last week, the chairman showed us the process their coffee goes through. When a farmer delivers cherry it is weighed and recorded as received.  The cherry is then depulped, dry fermented for about 24 hours, and then washed and soaked overnight.

The parchment is put on raised beds for drying and sorting before being moved to conditioning bins to rest in the shade.

Other factors that have led to good results include establishing coffee farms at the right time, using the right inputs, control of pests and diseases and applying culture methods — pruning, mulching and intercropping.

The Rainforest Alliance established its cupping for quality programme in 2003 to link sustainable farming practices with coffee quality.

Mr Morgan said the cuppings enable global coffee dealers to help farmers identify areas for improvement while ensuring better returns for coffee.

Others factories mentioned for high quality coffee include Colombia’s Manantiales del Frontino (86.78), San Ignacio (85.95), Ethiopia’s Moredocofe PLC (85.97), Kilenso Mokonisa (85.11) and Belete-Gera WaBuB/Oromia Forest & Wildlife Enterprise (84.86). Rwanda, a new entrant in coffee production, obtained a notable mention, with its Karengera brand scoring 85 points.

The samples were exposed to stringent tasting by experts from the world’s leading brands.

The popularity of Kenya’s coffees follows concerted efforts to increase acreage across the country with new farms identified in regions found fit to grow coffee amid intensified research into new and improved varieties.

Kenya has been producing high quality coffee since 1908 when coffee research was established. The colonial government acquired Jacaranda farm in Ruiru to establish the Coffee Research Station, followed by the construction of coffee laboratories in 1949.