Some small-scale coffee farmers in Kenya have started processing their coffee to protect the quality, aiming to get a share of the lucrative premium export market where quality coffee beans fetch a premium price.
Data from the Nairobi Coffee Exchange shows that top quality coffee known as AA grade fetched up to 45,326 shillings (about 427 United States dollars) per 50-kg bag compared to a price of 199 dollars fetched by the majority of the coffee during the auction that ended on May 24th.
Samuel Muchiri, 44, a farmer in Kirinyaga County in central Kenya is among small-scale farmers who have embraced home-based processing to avoid mixing their coffee with the rest of farmers in order to maintain quality and therefore get a better price.
“Coffee has money. But it needs to be of high-quality coffee. That is why I decided to do home processing to ensure I maintain high quality,” Muchiri told Xinhua on Friday at his farm.
When the coffee is processed at home, it is then taken to a miller where it is also milled separately and then graded ready for auction in the capital Nairobi or direct export.
Traditionally in Kenya, green harvested coffee is taken to a common processing factory owned by farmers where different grades are mixed.
Although grading happens later when the coffee is milled, the final payment is usually an average of the price fetched by all the grades, meaning that those farmers who have to take care of their coffee to get a better grade are not rewarded.
According to Muchiri, processing his coffee at home has enabled him to earn at least double and sometimes triple the amount of money earned by other farmers who sell through the cooperative societies.
“My coffee goes to the market as organically grown and therefore specialty coffee, which fetches a premium,” he said.
Gichuki Wambari, 54, from Nyeri County also in central Kenya, said he invested some 1,000 dollars in machinery to process his coffee.
“The pay from home processed coffee is better than processing and selling collectively,” he said.
He said although he is yet to establish a stable market for his coffee which he processes and then outsources the milling services, he is realizing better returns.
Home processing is part of the ongoing formal and informal reforms taking place in the coffee industry which was once Kenya’s largest foreign exchange earner.
President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed a committee to advise and steer reforms in the industry in 2016. The final report from the committee will be ready in July, said its head, Joseph Kieyah.
Kenya’s ministry of agriculture has also been pursuing new markets for coffee in China and the Middle East to reduce dependency on the traditional European market.