Farm: Azania Estate
Varietal: SL28, SL34, & Ruiru 11; some Batian
Processing: Fully washed
Altitude: 1,600 meters above sea level
Owner: Kenya Coffee Research Institute (CRI)
Town / City: Juja
Region: Kiambu County
Cri Azania AA - Kenya
This exceptional AA lot was produced at Azania Farm, owned and operated by Kenya’s Coffee Research Institute, one of the country’s primary agricultural bodies. CRI/KALRO (Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation) acquired the Azania farm in 1977 and has operated it since that time, always with the aim of improving Kenya’s coffee production.
As one of the country’s key colonial crops, it is perhaps not surprising that investment in coffee research in Kenya dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. In 1908, the British colonial government appointed the country’s first Coffee Entomologist, charging them with expanding and improving production. In the early years coffee research was undertaken at the Scotts Laboratories (currently the National Agricultural Laboratories) in the outskirts of Nairobi. In the years between 1934 and 1963, Scotts Laboratories developed multiple cultivars under contract, including various SL varieties, mostly based on Moka and Bourbon types brought by the Scotch and French missions to Kenya. Some of the more successful SL (Scott Labs...get it?) varieties are still widely grown in Kenya today, including the ubiquitous SL 28 and SL 34.
In 1944, as part of continued investment, the government purchased their first farm - Jacaranda Estate - near Ruiru and established the Coffee Research Station there, using the land for the development of new cultivars and agricultural techniques. Rukera farm (which lies adjacent) was established in 1949. Laboratories were constructed and completed in the same year and have survived even the tumultuous years of independence.
After Kenya’s independence was gained in 1963, taking into account the requests of coffee farmers, the Government handed direct responsibility for coffee research to the farmers themselves. This change of responsibility culminated in the incorporation of Coffee Research Foundation as a company limited by guarantee on the 19th of August 1964. While the organisation has gone through various changes since that time, it kept its demonstration farms – Jacaranda and Rukera – and today uses their production to help fund the Foundation’s activities. They have also purchased other farms, such as Azania, in different regions of Kenya in order to conduct field research ‘in situ’ in various microclimates. On these farms, around 5 function as primarily research stations. Azania is one of only two that function as fully commercial farms.
The name Azania was given by the farm’s original owners, who gave it this moniker after a Roman toponym referring to a portion of the Southeast Africa coast extending from Kenya through to Tanzania. Azania was also a proposed name for South Africa and Namibia, and it has been used more generally from the 1960s onward as a sort of catchall phrase for a decolonised African Arcadia. This could be considered slightly ironic, considering the original owners were colonisers.
Of course, today Azania farm fully serves the interests of the Kenyan people, bringing at least some aspects of that auspicious name to fruition. Azania in particular is used to test cultivation methods in rocky and swampy areas, as the farm is home to a-typical coffee growing land in some areas The research activities conducted on the farm are growing of coffee seedlings (coffee nursery), shade effect and coffee husbandry. As mentioned above, however, the main activity is coffee production for sale, with profits supporting the Intitute’s other activities.
Stephen Waweru has managed the farm since 2001 and has maintained the farm impeccably since that time. Currently, of the farm’s 99 hectares, only 66 are planted under coffee, and of these only 2 hectares of Ruiru 11 have been established. The rest of the farm remains planted under SL28 and SL34, traditional varieties that are more susceptible to diseases like Coffee Leaf Rust and Coffee Berry Disease. Best practices keep these diseases at bay, preserving the fantastic cup profile of these cultivars.
Needless to say, all agricultural activities executed on the farms – from pruning to fertilisation – are absolutely ‘best practice’ and are those that are recommended to small and medium producers around the country. The same goes for processing. During the harvest, the farm brings in hundreds of people from surrounding areas to help with picking. Transport and training are provided. Only the ripest cherries are picked at each pass. These are delivered on the same day to the ‘factory’ (as Kenyan washing stations/wet mills are called), meticulously sorted to remove any damaged or underripe cherries, and pulped on the farms’ 4 disk pulper. The pulped coffee is then fermented for around 12 hours before being fully washed in clean water to remove all the remaining mucilage.
The factory’s drying infrastructure is sufficient that the farm does not usually need to soak the coffee before delivering it to dry on raised beds. However, at the peak of the season, parchment may be soaked to ensure that all the mucilage has fermented off and also as a means of ‘holding’ it until space becomes available on the drying beds. In both cases, once clean, parchment is first delivered to pre-drying tables (with slightly larger screen holes) for around two hours. Here it will be sorted, again, as it loses excess surface moisture, before it is delivered to the main drying beds.
Usually drying times are around 2 weeks until the coffee reaches the optimal humidity of 11%. Coffee is turned and sorted every two hours or so and is covered during the hottest part of the day to prevent splitting and to promote even drying. After this, the coffee will be moved to conditioning bins to ‘settle’ and stabilise moisture content.
Despite these successes, one must keep in mind that the principal objective of the CRI is to promote research into and investigate all issues relating to coffee and other agricultural and commercial systems associated with coffee. In addition to its historic achievements – including the development of the SL28, SL34, K7, and the disease resistant hybrid variety Ruiru II (which are used worldwide) – the organisation importantly provides credible and responsive technical advisory and training services.
The Coffee Research Institute has more recently implemented a Coffee Productivity Project that will build the capacity for CRI, famer organisations, youth and women groups to improve the productivities of their respective farms. The project ran from July 2013 to July 2017 and expands the plantings of Ruiru 11 and Batian (both CRI developed), increases the growing capacity of cooperative societies and private nurseries, and seeks to increase the area under smallholder and small/medium estate coffee production in both traditional and non-traditional areas. In a country where production is severely threatened by urbanisation and climate change, the importance of such activities cannot be overstated. The CRI more recently has begun experimenting on their own farms to develop organic farming methods for resistant strains such as Ruiru 11. Although these trials have not been rolled out on a commercial basis, they are promising.
CRI also runs a coffee college for producers and cooperative leaders interested in improving farm management. Classes in everything from Coffee Farm Management, Coffee Factory Management, to Coffee Certification are taught at the Ruiru Facilities. Sustainability and Women in the Coffee Business classes also seek to expand the profile of the ‘average’ farmer in the country.
CRI is funded in part through a levy on coffee sales, generated through sales of lots such as this one. However, in most years, funds from the levy do not fully cover the Institute’s budget. Towards overcoming this challenge, the Foundation has stepped up efforts to raise funds from internal commercial activities, services, external grants and collaborative projects. They make certified seed and seedlings available at low costs to cooperatives and individual grower, as well, which is another primary source of income.
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.