Farm: Gititu Farmers Cooperative Society
Varietal: Mostly SL28, SL34: some Ruiru 11 & Batian
Processing: Fully washed & dried on raised beds
Altitude: 1,600 to 1,700 metres above sea level
Owner: approx. 500 smallholder members deliver to the washing station;FCS = 5,000+ active members
Town / City: Gitunduri
Region: Kiambu County
Overall: Peach, vanilla, clean
Gititu AB - Kenya
This AB lot was produced by numerous smallholder farmers, all of whom are members of the Gititu Farmers Cooperative Society (FCS) delivering to Gititu Coffee Factory (as washing stations/wet mills are called in Kenya). The factory is located near the town of Gitunduri, in Kenya’s Kiambu County.
Gititu means, itself, ‘big forest’ in Kikuyu, one of the native languages of the region, though these days there is not a great deal of unbroken forest in this part of Kenya, whose hills are populated by numerous smallholder farmers and their families. Farmers such as these form the backbone of Kenya’s coffee industry, producing more than 60% of the country’s coffee.
Gititu FCS is one of the oldest in Kiambu, being founded in 1954 (the Factory was established in ’57), before the country’s independence. At this time, the vast majority of coffee production in Kenya was done on large estates, and smallholder farmers were often prohibited from growing the crop. This makes the longevity of the factory and the group all the more impressive. A testament to its importance at the time, the factory was even visited by the first president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyata, in 1962, as he travelled the countryside before independence, securing support of the people.
Today, the FCS operates 8 washing stations within Kiambu County (Gititu, Kiairia, Karweti, Ikinu, Kimathi, Mutuya, Ngochi and Ngemwa Factories) and serves some 5,000 members in total. Around 1,000 of these deliver cherry to the Gititu Factory, which processes around 2,500 metric tonnes of coffee annually.
The Factory and the FCS are exceptionally well-managed, with many members of staff working their way up through the ranks over many years. Current Secretary Manager, Patrick Ndungu, has been an employee since 1987, and current factory manager has worked with them since 1984. When asked how they account for this longevity, both men cite regular meetings and transparency. Gititu FCS simply is good at communicating with their members and provides a great deal of feedback and information. In fact, members are invited weekly to attend the Nairobi Coffee Exchange auction to witness the selling of their lots and are often provided transportation from the Society.
Gititu FCS is well known for the high quality of coffee processed at all of their factories. As such, processing at the Gititu wet mill 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. The factory uses clean water pumped directly from the Mukuyu River for pulping and washing.
After pulping the cherries are delivered to one of the factory’s fermentation tanks, where it will ferment for around 48 hours depending on the ambient temperature at the time. Gititu factory has plenty of drying infrastructure, so they do not normally soak coffee after fermentation. Rather, coffee is washed fully to remove all traces of mucilage and is graded through channels. The coffee will then either be delivered to dry on the factory’s raised drying beds, where it will dry slowly over the course of around a week, during which time it will be turned regularly. It is covered during the hottest part of the day and also at night to ensure even and slow driving. Unusually, the factory uses a moisture metre to assess when the coffee is ready to be moved for resting and another round of sorting in the storage warehouse.
Kiambu, being very close to Nairobi, has a long history with regards to coffee production. However, recent history and urbanisation pose many issues for the future of coffee production in the region. Some of the issues are the same that farmers across the country face, such as low production due to pests and diseases and the relatively high cost of inputs compared to income from coffee. Many cannot afford to plant disease resistant varieties and face being priced out of the market as their yields diminish. Even with the support that Gititu FCS is able to provide in the form of discounted Batian seedlings and agricultural advice, they are struggling.
The most pressing threat is arguably that of urbanisation and industrialisation. Kiambu County abuts directly up to the northern boundaries of Nairobi, encompassing wealthy suburbs and industrial areas alike in its southern edges. It is worth mentioning that Gititu factory, itself, is only around 50km from the northwest edge of the sprawling metropolis. As the expansion of the Thika Superhighway and other infrastructure projects advance, it becomes easier and easier to set up businesses (and homes) on the outskirts of Nairobi, more deeply penetrating Kiambu’s borders. The highway construction has already led to an explosion of the real estate market with several big projects under development, such as Tatu City, Thika Greens and Buffalo Hills complexes. Other modern housing developments include Bahati Ridges, Fourways Junction and Juja South schemes.
Such urban expansion has already eaten away at many of Kenya’s larger coffee plantations: many of the oldest and largest are now housing developments. The impact on small holder farmers – who currently live farther from the city’s bounds – remains to be seen. Gititu leadership have commented that not only have they seen significant drops in production in recently years: in the past, the Gititu factory alone would have seen 1.3 metric tonnes of cherry delivered in the main season. Now, they struggle to make up that quantity across all 8 factories combined. Some of this is due to competition, as there are more factories in the area than previously, but most of it is simply diminishing crop yields and loss of arable land. They have also seen young farmers – sons and daughters of members – reach adulthood only to leave their land to work in the city: many ‘sell up’ and others just leave their land fallow. Partible inheritance, where property is apportioned among heirs, has caused landholdings to diminish over time, and with only 200 trees or fewer, many young people just don’t see the viability of coffee production.
One thing is sure: continued investment in quality coffee such as this lot is one of the sure actions that will continue to give coffee in the region a ‘leg up’, hopefully preserving coffee in the area for many generations to come.
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 or factory may cup better.