Machine spares coffee farmers hours of hard labour

Coffee farmers in the country can breathe a sigh of relief thanks to a new machine that will now assist them in pulping coffee, a practice that is usually labour intensive. Dubbed the eco pulper the machine 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.

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.