Farm: Ruchu Factory; Ruchu Gacharage Farmers Co-Operative Society
Varietal: Sl28, SL34 & Ruiru 11; some Batian
Processing: Fully washed & dried on African beds
Altitude: 1,400+ metres above sea level
Owner: Owner: Approx. 600 members deliver to Ruchu;FCS = Approx.3,715 active members
Town / City: Kandara
Region: Murang’a County, Central Province
Overall: Lemon, red apple, brown sugar
Ruchu AB - Kenya
This AB lot was produced by numerous smallholder farmers, all of whom are members of the Ruchu Gacharage Farmers Co-Operative Society delivering to Ruchu Coffee Factory (as washing stations/wet mills are called in Kenya). The factory is located near the town of Kandara, in Kenya’s Murang’a County.
Ruchu Gacharage FCS has a long history. They formed in 1961, even before Kenyan Independence. They operate 5 factories: Mukangu, Ruona, Gacharage, Kamichee and Ruchu with total membership of around 3,700 small scale coffee growers. Ruchu factory is in a good location, not too far from the mid-sized township or Kandara and overlooking the Ruchu River, from where it draws water for pulping and washing coffee. The factory itself is not large, but it is sufficient to serve the surrounding community. Currently the mill processes somewhere in the vicinity of 160 metric tonnes of coffee cherry annually.
Processing at the Ruchu 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.
Wastewater from the wet milling process is managed through the use of soaking pits. The water used for processing the cherry will spend time in the pits to insure that the nutrient rich water created during depulping will not be returned to the nearby water source without proper treatment. This additional step will cut down the risk of contamination and after adequate time for reabsorption the water will be recirculated.
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 Ruchu must confront in the future.
Ruchu Gacharage FCS also has to compete with tea as an agricultural crop. Many growers across Murang’a and Nyeri have converted their coffee plots into tea, as the crop is harvested year-round and is more readily converted into cash-in-hand. Low prices for coffee have exacerbated this in recent years. High quality coffee production and care taken with processing are one way to ensure that mono-crops such as tea don’t replace the more diverse, integrated smallholder agriculture that is traditional in the region and of which coffee is an integral part.
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.