A new machine has come onto the market to aide coffee farmers in the laborious process of pulping coffee, at a time when the international coffee market is delivering surging demand and prices. The eco pulper cuts out the fermentation stage in the coffee processing, and reduces use of water and days involved in the processing by a week.
“The cost of pulping coffee can be significantly reduced with low water use, especially in small co-operative societies. With newer technologies, it is now possible to use pulping machines that use little water,” said Steven Wainaina, a sales executive with Msumbi Africa, a Nairobi based firm that specialises in farm machines. Unlike the traditional coffee pulping machines, the eco pulper process coffee from start to parchment within a day. The machine cuts out the fermentation stage and uses very little water for the process, saving on water and fermentation costs, which include labour. Berries are picked and pulped with the mucilage - the sticky substance in the berries - removed in the same process to produce beans ready for drying.
Farmers in coffee-growing Kericho area are growing bananas with coffee, in a practice now been hailed by scientists as key to protecting coffee from climate change, and raising coffee yields, at a time when temperatures are projected to rise between 3 to 4 degrees in the next decade.
Farmers in Kericho report that the bark from the banana trees is serving as fertiliser for the coffee, while the leaves shade the coffee from the bright sun, and the bananas feed their families while they wait for the coffee to harvest. At the same time, scientists say the permanent nature of the banana and coffee canopy and root systems is strongly reducing erosion in hilly regions, and mitigating carbon creation.
“We are doing research at that moment that shows - the more shade you put - I know we are talking about bananas, but we are also talking about shade trees - then you also sequester carbon much more - and that’s good for carbon mitigation,” said Jassogne, an agricultural systems scientist with the Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Africa.
But new research by the consortium on the benefits of intercropping show that beside shielding the farmers from climate change, the commercial benefits to the farmers of growing the crops together are substantial.
The research showed that in the arabica coffee-growing regions, annual returns per hectare averaged $4,441 for coffee and bananas grown together, compared with $1,728 and $2,364 for bananas and coffee grown alone, respectively.
In the robusta-growing areas, annual returns per hectare averaged $1,827 for coffee plus bananas, while farmers earned $1,170 and $1,286 for solely growing bananas and coffee in the same amount of space. Since coffee yields were essentially the same in both systems, the extra revenues came from adding the banana plants. Scientists therefore recommend planting two coffee trees for each banana plant.
Around the world, scientists and farmers are scrambling to develop crops that not only are more resilient to erratic weather, but also yield more food per plot of land, to accommodate population growth and achieve food security.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
Coffee farming in Kenya has emerged as a case study in the way small-holder incomes are being slashed through poor knowledge and poor management, with an ongoing four-year coffee initiative targeted at 50,000 smallholders having already raised farmers’ incomes by as much as four-fold, on simple measures of coffee handling and financial transparency.
Coffee prices are set to rise after an exceptionally poor harvest year in both Colombia and Brazil, the world's leading coffee producers.
Last year's Colombia harvest was the worst since 1974, due to bad weather, with the International Coffee Organization (ICO) warning the coffee crop for next crop year, beginning September 30, could also fall short of the 9.5 million bags predicted.
As things stand, analysts predict that global demand will be about 131 million bags in 2010, while world production will be around 124 million bags, leading to a further rundown in world coffee stocks, which are already running low.
This has already seen prices surging, from last year’s average price per pound of coffee of 115.67 US cents to an average this year to the end of March of 125.3 US cents per pound, according to the ICO’s composite price index.
The price rises have also been coming through strongly in Kenya, with the price of AA grade coffee up by $54 dollars to $686 per 50kg bag just in the two weeks from the beginning of March.
Kenya currently exports some 57,800 tons of coffee a year to European countries, including German, USA, Sweden, England and Belgium.
Globally, Arabica coffee now accounts for around 60 percent of coffee exports, at 59.53 million bags in the year to March, compared with the more downmarket Robusta, at 32.74 million bags.
Arabica coffee is used for making fresh coffee and up-market instant coffees, with cheaper instant brands made primarily from Robusta.
However, Arabica supplies look set to remain under pressure.
The Brazilian government agency CONAB has released its 2nd estimate for the 2010/11 crop, showing improved production levels in the year ahead. Output is predicted to be 47.04 million bags, compared to 36.9 million bags in 2009/2010.
But while Brazil’s expected return to higher output will push world production to 124 million bags that total remains substantially short of world demand estimates.
Moreover, other producers have also suffered major setbacks, such as Guatemala, where production dipped by 30 per cent in the 2009-2010 coffee season.
Meanwhile, demand continues to rise. The ICO now predicts further price rises based on the 2010/2011 harvest predictions.
Written By Robin Okuthe and James Karuga
Researchers are urging coffee farmers to mulch and irrigate their crops to address rising levels of the plant pest thrips, last witnessed at current levels some 15 years ago and now set to knock out an estimated 10 per cent of the country’s coffee output this year, but posing a bigger risk for next year if left unaddressed.
The surge in the pest is not yet at alarming levels, but has been rising visibly since March, said Dr Harrison Mugo an agricultural entomologist with the Coffee Research Foundation (CRF).
Yet countering the problem only requires a greater awareness of soil moisture levels, say scientists.
Though thrips attack berries, they are largely concentrated under the leaves. The leaves turn irregularly grey, with silvery patches and black spots. They then fall leaving a stunted coffee plant.
Thrips are brown in colour with feathers that look like birds wings. The surge in their numbers has been caused by the dryness since March, which is expected to last until September’s short rains, prompting the CRF alert to coffee farmers.
If rains fall before September, the problem will diminish, but if they don’t all coffee areas could see surging thrip numbers and need to use pesticides, said Dr Mugo.
Nearly half of all coffee farms in Kenya have thrips on their crops, but the pest is most prevalent in the main coffee growing zones in the Upper Midlands. However, the pest is only considered a threat if it rises above the stipulated Economic Injury Level (EIL) of 2 to 3 thrips per leaf. In well tended coffee plantations most fall under the EIL threshold. Hence “they are not a major worry factor for the farmer,” said Dr Mugo
Indeed, coffee researchers don’t normally rate thrip as a major coffee pest, but following the surge in numbers this year they have moved to outline measures farmers can implement to control or eradicate them. The CRF is advising farmers to mulch their coffee trees to conserve moisture and if they have an irrigation kit, to irrigate their plantations in dry spells.
As a long term measure, CRF is also encouraging farmers to plant the Cordia tree and intercrop it with coffee to provide shade in dry spells. The tree matures in 2 to 3 years if the rains are good and is spaced 30 by 30 metres. Once its leaves fall, it provides organic matter that helps conserve moisture in the soil.
The mulch from fallen Cordia leaves also encourages the multiplication of predator mites that feed on thrips. The predator mites are inherent in coffee farms but organic matter ups their numbers. Introducing Cordia “is a bio pest control measure,” said Mugo.
Coffee plants are additionally more immune to thrips attack when they getting extra nutrients from the organic matter. “The same as when a person is healthy, he is less likely to fall sick,” said Dr Mugo.
Nonetheless, where the thrips reach or surpass the stipulated EIL of 2 to 3 thrips per leaf, spraying with pesticides is mandatory.
When the level of infestation becomes high, thrips can cause total crop loss in the following season. This is likely where leaves fall and coffee plants are left bare by the pests. The plants then fail to flower the following year leading to a barren coffee season.
According to a report by Bloomberg News, the Coffee Board of Kenya now projects thrips will reduce coffee yields this year to 40,000 metric tons, compared to last year’s 45,000 tons.
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
A drum-type coffee pulper developed for small scale farmers is able to decorticate the outer skin and segregate the skin and wet parchment. It is widely used across the world by coffee plantations. According to Mr. Bhattacharya of Indian company Marshal-Fowler Group, prices for the pulpers range Sh30,000 to Sh50,000 for the drum type with the motorised pulpers retailing at Sh100,000. The motorised pulper can pulp 400-500 kilos per hour, unlike the traditional pulping method, which took three days to pulp the same amount. However, the cost, although heavily subsidised, is still beyond the means of many coffee farmers.
The uptake has therefore been predominantly by the coffee co-operatives on behalf of their farmers. “We have already purchased three eco pulpers for our farmers. So they just bring their coffee to the factory and it is pulped from here. Since it is their property we agree how much each farmer will be deducted during payment for the coffee supplied to the factory,” said Haniel Kinyua, a factory manager at Kahuro Coffee factory in Murang'a county. This arrangement has meant that farmers can supply as much coffee as they want to the factory without the previous waiting that affected the quality of the coffee berries. Traditionally, coffee farmers would queue in coffee factories for their coffee to be pulped and with the factory resources limited, there were often only a handful of people to do assist in the pulping and the fermentation. In Kahuro factory, for example, farmers who brought their coffee had to wait for days before their coffee could be accepted for pulping due to the backlog.
“There was a lot of demand for the coffee in the market, and farmers were delivering enough to meet the demand, but the low processing power in the factory meant that we had to lock so many,” said Haniel. This, according to industry players, was one of the reasons that thousands of coffee farmers in Central and Rift Valley province uprooted hundreds of thousands of coffee trees on the premises of poor returns and replaced them with traditional commercial crops like maize and beans.
Farmers who supply more than 1500 kilos of coffee to the factories, however, are now being encouraged to apply for a loan from the factories so the factory can buy the eco pulper for them, with the deductions made on their coffee payment. “Already we have had about 6 farmers who grow coffee large scale enter into this agreement and it is working wonders. It means that we save a lot still on time since we only handle those farmers who deliver coffee in hundred kilos,” said Maga Waiganjo, a factory officer at Gatharaini Coffee factory in Kirinyaga county.
This breakthrough is now seeing more interest in coffee farming as even private coffee buyers are impressed by the sustained supply of coffee and offering more as an incentive to farmers to maintain the consistent supply.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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