Farm: Gakui Factory; Gakundu Farmers Cooperative Society
Varietal: SL28, SL34, Ruiru 11& Batian
Processing: Fully washed & dried on African beds
Altitude: 1,800+ metres above sea level
Owner: Verious smallholder farmers
Town / City: Ngandori East sub-location, Kamviu location
Region: Embu County, Central Province
Gakui AA - Kenya
This AA lot was produced by numerous smallholder farmers, all of whom are members of the Gakundu Farmers Co-Operative Society (FCS) delivering to Gakui Coffee Factory (as washing stations/wet mills are called in Kenya). The factory is located north of the town of Mutundury, in Ngandori West in Kenya’s Embu County.
Gakui is one of four factories operated by the FCS (the other three are Gakundu, Gichugu and Kamviu) and was established in 1996. The FCS as a whole has around 3,000 active members, and about a quarter of these deliver coffee cherry to the Gakui Factory.
The washing station serves several towns in the region. Members are all smallholders with around a half hectare or less of land. Coffee is usually grown on only a small part of the ‘shamba’ (farm), and farmers grown other crops such as carrot, banana and fruit to help support and feed their families.
Gakui Factory receives assistance from the Coffee Management Services (CMS) group, who are on the ground directly helping producers improve their productivity and quality through training and education programs. Their objective is to ensure sustained industry growth by establishing a transparent and trust-based relationship with their small-holder producers. By helping them improve their quality, CMS in turn improves the premiums the producers can be paid, and ultimately has a positive impact on their quality of life.
As part of their program, CMS provides pre-financing to producers for school fees and farm inputs. The factory manager is provided with training every year, and there are also some members of the cooperative who are ‘promoter farmers’ and provide Good Agricultural Practices (GAPS) to the smallholders. This extension service has a positive impact on coffee quality from Gakui, as farmers emerge from trainings with a better understanding of the impact that fertilisation, pruning, and quality driven harvest techniques have on the prices their coffee receives at auction and with direct buyers.
Additionally, from funds set aside from the previous year’s harvest, members of the cooperative can access pre-financing for school fees, access to farm inputs and funds for emergency needs.
It is no surprise then that processing at the Gakui factory adheres to stringent quality-driven methods. All coffee cherries are handpicked and are delivered to the mill the same day, where they undergo meticulous sorting. Factory employees oversee the process and any underripe or damaged cherries will not be accepted by the ‘Cherry Clerk’ – one of the most important harvest-period staff, who keeps meticulous records of how much coffee each producer delivers on any given day (and thus how much payment is due once the coffee has sold). Any rejected coffee will have to be taken home again, and the farmer will need to find a place to dry it (often a tarp in the yard) to be delivered only at the end of season as low quality ‘Mbuni’ – natural process coffee that earns a very low price. Thus, farmer members are incentivised to only pick and deliver the ripest cherry that they can.
After being weighed and logged, the weight of the delivery and the farmer’s identification are recorded in the Cherry Clerk’s register and the cherries are introduced into the hopper to be pulped. Pulping will only begin when a sufficient quantity of cherries has been received.
After pulping the cherries are delivered to one of the factory’s fermentation tanks, where it will ferment for around 12 hours depending on the ambient temperature at the time. After this, the coffee is fully washed to remove all traces of mucilage, during which time it will be graded. Once the fermentation process is completed, the beans enter the washing channels where floaters are separated further and the dense beans are cleaned of mucilage. The washed beans will then enter soaking tanks where they can sit under clean water for as long as another 24 hours.
While the soaking process is usually a result of ‘peak capacity’ on a factory’s drying beds, functioning as a sort of waiting room until there is space available, it also is potentially beneficial to the coffee’s quality. Soaking allows amino acids and proteins in the cellular structure of each bean to develop, which results in higher levels of acidity and complex fruit flavours in the cup.
After soaking, the coffee will be moved to drying beds where they will be dried slowly over the course of 2 to 3 weeks. During this time, it will be turned regularly and covered during the hottest part of the day.
Some of the issues that farmers face are low production due to loss due to pests and diseases and the relatively high cost of inputs. Many cannot afford to plant disease resistant varieties and face being priced out of the market as their yields diminish. It is perhaps no surprise that many young people in the region see no future in continuing to farm coffee. This is a challenge across much of Kenya, and one that cooperatives such as Gakundu FCS must confront in the future.
Screen sizing in Kenya
The AA, AB and other grades used to classify lots in Kenya are an indication of screen size only. They are not any indication of cup quality. The AA grade in Kenya is equivalent to screen size 17 or 18 (17/64 or 18/64 of an inch) used at other origins. AA grades often command higher prices at auction though this grade is no indication of cup quality and an AB lot from a better farm may cup better. PB (denoting Peaberry) is the smallest screen size.