Grace Mwangi lifts a bucket containing red ripe coffee berries and pours them into a compartment of a pulping machine.
The coffee farmer then fetches water from a tap and pours it in the container where the coffee berries are.
Soon, her worker on the other side of the pulping machine starts rotating a lever device. The process is called pulping and involves removal of the outer cover of the coffee beans.
Grace, a farmer from Muruguru village, just outside Nyeri town, engages in the process to earn more from her coffee that she grows on eight acres.
After pulping, which Grace learned from a fellow farmer, the beans are dried in the sun for two weeks.
She then stores them in well-ventilated coffee store for another 12 weeks before selling.
“I sell my coffee beans to Highlands Coffee Mills. The Grade AA beans go for an average of Sh32,841 ($369) per 50kg bag after pulping.”
On the other hand, other farmers sell dry coffee beans to millers at Sh110 per kilo, making Grace’s value addition six times more profitable.
Indeed the proceeds could be much lower if one sells the fresh coffee without pulping as a kilo goes for between Sh10 and Sh30 currently.
These meagre proceeds prompted the farmer to buy her own pulping machine.
“I realised that selling my coffee beans directly to factories with the skin was not fetching me good profits. The most I received was Sh60,000 from 3,000kg of coffee.”
What makes coffee farmers get low pay is due to factories deducting some money to pay their staff who do the pulping.
“I bought my pulping machine at Sh100,000 from a company in Karatina,” says the farmer, who went into coffee farming about six years ago after retiring as a civil servant.
But for a farmer to pulp her beans, Grace says one must acquire a licence.
“It is a rigorous process that involves one’s farm being inspected to ensure they engage in good agricultural practices and one must have at least 10,000 trees. It took me three years before I was given a permit in 2012 by Coffee Directorate, formerly Coffee Board of Kenya.”
According to the Coffee Directorate, a farmer must grow five acres of mature coffee to get a pulping station licence.
Coffee factories must give clearance before a farmer is given the licence.
The clearance is to ensure the farmers do not owe debts although most factories are usually unhappy since farmers are competing with their cooperative societies.
However, millers are happy since they are able to buy pulped coffee directly from the coffee estate farmers.
THIEVES BROKE IN
Currently, Nyeri County has 165 coffee estate farmers pulping their own coffee.
After getting the licence, Grace started pulping her coffee and was optimistic her earnings would grow significantly.
However, misfortune soon struck. Thieves broke into her store and stole pulped coffee beans worth Sh600,000.
“That night I had pulped my coffee and went to sleep as usual. But when I woke up, I found thugs had dug a hole in my fence and stole the coffee beans,” recounts Grace.
She, thereafter, constructed a perimeter wall surrounding the pulping machine which she also fitted with security sensors.
The pulping machine has a motor, which helps to run the device hence little human effort is required.
The farmer now has two pulping machines. “I took a loan from Coffee Development Fund to purchase the second pulping machine at Sh200,000.
“I had to get the machine because the number of my coffee trees rose from 3,000 to 10,000. I now pulp on average 3,000kg to 4,000kg per month.”
Grace produces Grade AA coffee beans, which earn more. And what is her secret?
“I plant certified seeds and apply manure as recommended. And after harvesting the beans, I sort the ripe from unripe beans before I begin to pulp.”
However, Grace does not only grow coffee. She also keeps cows and grows bananas.
She has nine cows, four of which are lactating and the rest are heifers.
She also has six goats and has grown 150 banana stems and she plants tomatoes in a greenhouse.
She fetches another Sh100,000 a year from the crops.
Her diversification and resilience paid off recently when she was named the best mixed farmer in the county during the Nyeri Agricultural Show.
In the award, she was recognised for utilising her farm well by planting bananas, tomatoes and coffee, and rearing goats, cows.
Senior Technologist at Dedan Kimathi University Chuaga Kinuthia notes that a coffee bean has the pulp, the inner part known as the parchment and the silver skin.
The pulp is extracted by coffee factories or by farmers owning pulping machines while the parchment is removed at the miller’s level.
The silver skin can be partially removed by the miller before it is extracted finally during coffee roasting.
Chuaga notes that pulping and drying the coffee beans must be done meticulously, and one needs training to do it well.
“If a farmer can pulp, then the better because the earnings are more since they will sell directly to millers. If one sells to a cooperative society, the institutions have to deduct their own operational costs, which includes pulping.”
Coffee Research Institute Acting Head of Coffee Breeding Unit Jane Jerono says farmers should grow the Ruiru 11 and Batian varieties, which have been released in the market recently.
Jane says the new varieties are disease-resistant, grow faster and have higher yields than the older varieties namely SL34, SL28 and K7.