Baragwi Cooperative Farmers Society
The Baragwi Cooperative Society is well known for their factories that consistently produce some outstanding coffees of Kirinyaga region. The cherries are grown by various smallholders in areas surrounding the stations.
There's plenty of rich volcanic and sandy soil which provides enough nutrients for the trees to flower during February and April for the main harvest which is from October to December. The smallholders mainly have SL 28 and SL 34. Small amounts of other mixed varieties can occur such as Ruiru 11 or Batian.
This is done at the wet mills or at collection centres. When the farmers arrive at the place for delivery they would normally have to empty their bags on a covered section of the floor to sort out unripe, overripe and CBD infected cherries.
When they start the pulper the cherries are pulled by gravity down into the machine. They normally use disc pulpers such as old three disc Agaarde or similar brands. The parchment flows from the discs with water allowing the beans to be separated by density. The densest beans will sink and are pumped straight through a channel to the fermentation tank as P1 (parchment 1). Apart from that, there are two more different grades. Grade 1 and 2 go separately to fermentation while Grade 3 is considered a low grade.
After pulping, the coffees are dry fermented (water is drained off) in painted concrete tanks. Normally they are fermented for 18-24 hours. Many factories do intermediate washing every 6 – 8 hours, meaning they add water, stir up the parchment and drain it again.
Washing and soaking
When fermentation is completed and the mucilage is dissolved the parchment gets washed in washing channels and graded again by density. The lighter beans will float off and the remaining dense parchment will be soaked in clean water from the Gatomboya stream for another 16-18 hours.
After soaking, the coffees are dried on hessian mesh mats for up to one day, then moved to the traditional drying tables. The coffee is normally dried on a surface of jute cloth or shade net layered over the table’s wire mesh. Coffees are covered in plastic during midday and at night. The drying time varies between 12 and 20 days depending on weather and rainfall.
Milling and export
The dry mills in Kenya are highly professional and efficient. The coffees are graded according to the following system:
E (Elephant beans) = screen 19 and up AA = 17/18 AB = 16/17 PB = Peaberries.
Kenya mainly produces fully washed coffees, and is considered by many as the world’s number one quality producer. There are more than 700,000 coffee farmers, mainly smallholders representing about 55% of the production. The rest is produced mostly by large farms known as Estates.
Farmers will usually grow different crops and maybe have as few as 100 coffee trees. The farmers are organised in Cooperative Societies that act as umbrella organisations for the Factories (wet mills), where the smallholders deliver their coffee cherries for processing.
Many farmers are surrounded by several wet mills and they are free to choose where they deliver their cherries. Due to the traditional auction system in Kenya, quality is rewarded with higher prices. The better factories will then attract more farmers by producing coffees that earn the highest prices, which they return to the farmers in the form of a second payment. After the cost of marketing and preparation is deducted, this can sometimes be up to 90% of the sales price.
The Kenyan system is transparent towards the farmers, and everything is more or less separated into small lots and different grades. If you buy coffees directly through the second window (meaning not through the auction), the producers expect to get prices above the average auction prices at present time. In addition, the system is transparent as everybody knows how much is going back to the society after the cost of milling and marketing is deducted.
In fact, many of the more serious societies and factories are competing, getting cherries in from the same areas, and are putting effort and pride into paying the highest returns to their farmers.