Farm: Marua Factory; Rutuma Farmers Cooperative Society
Varietal: SL 28, SL 34 & Ruiru 11; some Batian
Processing: Fully washed & dried on raised beds
Altitude: 1,850+ metres above sea level
Owner: Approx. 667 members deliver to Marua;FCS = Approx. 3,900 members total
Town / City: Karatina
Region: Kiambu County, Central Province
Marua AA - Kenya
This AB lot was produced by numerous smallholder farmers, all of whom are members of the Rutuma Farmers Cooperative Society (FCS) delivering to Marua Coffee Factory (as washing stations/wet mills are called in Kenya). The factory is located near the town of Karatina, in Kenya’s Nyeri County.
Rutuma FCS is a relatively new entity. The Rutuma FCS Cooperative Society, was established in 1995 after the split of the Mathira FCS, which itself had 11 wet mills. In 2005, Ruthanga, Tumutumu and Marua farmers’ cooperative societies merged and formed Rutuma Amalgamated FCS Limited which was registered on January 5th, 2005. The various societies joining together already had existing community wet mills, which is how (despite its relatively recent birth) the society currently operates seven wet mills – namely, Ruthagati, Marua, Karie, Ngandu, Githima, Kianjogu and Ndurutu – and boasts an overall annual production of around 330 tonnes of green coffee annually.
Marua has just around 800 registered members, but like many Kenyan coffee factories, only a portion of them actively deliver coffee in any given year. Currently around 650 members actively bring cherry to be processed. Amongst the members are promoter farmers who are trained to teach small scale farmer members Good Agricultural practices (GAPS). This extension service has an immediately positive impact on coffee quality from the mill, as farmers emerge from trainings with a better understanding of the impact of fertilisation, pruning and quality-driven harvest techniques on the price that their coffee receives at auction and with direct buyers.
Accordingly, processing at the Marua 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.
After pulping the cherries are delivered to one of the factory’s fermentation tanks, where it will ferment for between 12 to 48 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. The coffee will then either be delivered to dry on the factory’s raised drying beds or will be soaked under circulating water for up to 24 hours, depending on if there is room on the factory’s beds (during the peak of the season, there is often a backlog). The coffee will dry here slowly over the course of 2 to 3 weeks, during which time it will be turned regularly and covered during the hottest part of the day.
Rutuma is managed by a board of 7 members; each one is elected and will represent one of the seven wet mills. Rutuma also employs a Secretary Manager who oversees its permanent staff members, as well as the day to day running of the Coop.
Coffee farming in Nyeri goes back far into Kenya’s colonial past, but many members of the Cooperative still rely on additional economic and agricultural activities for their livelihoods. In addition to producing coffee, most farmers in the area also produce tea, maize and legumes for sale at local markets and for their own tables.
Some of the issues that farmers face are 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. The cooperative has undertaken actions to increase yields and improve their member’s livelihoods. By paying the producers some of the highest returns for their coffee this objective can be achieved.
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.