Karimikui factory is part of the powerhouse Rungeto Farmers Cooperative Society that also houses the renowned Kii factory. Rungeto has one more wet mill in its ranks: the Kiangoi factory. As Rungeto FCS, these three factories are what remains of Ngiriama FCS, formerly one of Kenya’s largest cooperative societies. After the structural changes, Karimikui reopened for processing in 1997. Nowadays, Rungeto represents roughly 9% of the smallholder coffee producers in Kirinyaga.
Thanks to its investments, Rungeto plays an important role in the development of the nearby community. Next to processing coffee, they have also set up a dairy cooling plant and a fuel station. These operations generate extra job opportunities. Furthermore, farmers can diversify their income with the milk from their cows.
Predominant varieties in the region are SL28 and SL34, with pockets of Ruiru 11, Batian and K7. Registered producers deliver their cherries to Kagumoini. The central factory then wet processes the coffee in typical Kenyan style. The cherries are sorted on maturity and processed separately per quality group. The coffee is depulped and ferments for up to 24 hours.
Next, the washing station staff washes the coffee by pushing it through channels with water. This step already sorts the coffees on bean density through flotation. The heaviest qualities sink while floaters go all the way to the end of the channel. The highest qualities soak for an additional 24 hours in clean water before going out to the drying field. The coffee dries on raised beds for an average of 10 days.
When the coffee reaches 11% moisture content, Kenya’s registered marketing agents take the coffee to the weekly auction. In this auction, registered buyers can bid on the coffees they liked. Each buyer can take samples from the auction’s sample room to evaluate in his own lab, a week prior to the auction.
Price paid at Nairobi Coffee Exchange
Coffees are sold at the auction in green bean per $/50kg unit. All registered exporters can bid in the auction, which makes prices for the much-wanted coffees go up. Various costs apply from the point of selling to the producer-return price. For the lot from Karimikui factory $370/50kg was paid at the auction. After the auction, various costs apply to prepare the coffee for export.
Coffee production in Kenya dates back to the late 1880s. Around that time, French Missionaries reportedly brought seeds to the Taita Hills area. Introduced into the Kiambu district in 1896, coffee found a great combination of altitude, soils and temperature that resulted in the high quality for which Kenyan coffee is known across the globe. Still today, the biggest coffee growing area spreads from Kiambu, on the outskirts of Nairobi, up to the slopes of Mount Kenya. The Counties in this region also known as Central Kenya – Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Murang’a and Nyeri – have an annual production of around 39,000 metric tons of green coffee. This accounts for almost 70% of the national production. Other coffee growing areas are: Machakos (Eastern Kenya) and Bungoma (Western Kenya), but volumes are significantly smaller.
Although patterns may differ from area to area, in general, Kenya has two main rainy seasons which dictate two crops. Long rains occur from March to May, while a shorter rainy season occurs around October. The dry spells that anticipate those rains trigger two flowering periods: February/March for the country’s main crop, and September for the early or ’fly’ crop. Central areas are able to produce and deliver coffee in both seasons, whereas Machakos, for example, only produces coffee during the early crop season.
Coffee plants naturally find extremely fertile soils in Kenya’s growing regions. Soils are young and volcanic and very rich in organic matter. The altitude in coffee growing areas ranges from a minimum of 1280m in Embu (Eastern part of Mount Kenya region) to a high of 2300m in Nyeri (Western slopes).
Organization & Processing
Nowadays, approximately 55 % of all coffee production comes from smallholder farms. The number varies greatly from area to area (Kiambu 14%, Kirinyaga 72%, Machakos 80%). Smallholder farmers are organized in Cooperative Societies, which own the wet mills where farmers deliver ripe cherries. At wet mills (also known as factories) cherries are pulped and fermented for approximately 24 hours. After fermentation, coffee is soaked in tanks full of water and washed in channels. Still at the washing station, coffee is graded in P1 (heaviest parchment), P2 and lights (floaters). Any remaining cherries are removed and processed separately. Coffee is sun-dried on raised tables, a process which can take up to 3 weeks. At night and during the hottest periods, parchment is covered so that drying is gentle and homogenous.
Dry parchment is then delivered to a centralized dry mill. Here, the coffee is processed, screened and marketed at the weekly auctions in Nairobi. Approximately 90% of the entire coffee production is ‘washed’. The remaining 10% is made up of usually unripe cherries. These are spread out on trays to dry in the sun. This process can take up to 5 weeks. The resulting coffee is known as ‘Mbuni’.