?Local farmers, with the help of the county government, have set up a Sh5 million laboratory for testing the quality of coffee.
Kirinyaga County Farmers Co-operative Union officials said the lab would ensure that their coffee met international standards, which would in turn translate to increased earnings.
The facility, located at the union headquarters in Kerugoya town, has equipment that is able to indicate the point at which the quality of coffee beans begins to deteriorate.
“The union wants farmers to produce high quality coffee whose demand in the international market is high,” said co-operative chairman Kimani Gatuguta.
“If our farmers co-operate and we achieve this dream, our county will rise out of poverty because the coffee we want to produce fetches the highest returns.”
The Union Cupping Laboratory is manned by Cyrus Njagi, a trained coffee liquorer. His main work is to test samples from different co-operative societies and individual farmers to enable grading.
Mr Njagi said coffee starts to lose its quality right from the farm, especially when the farmer fails to spray his crop, apply manure or prune.
“When the farmer does not take care of his crop, harvested ripe berries are poor in quality,” added Mr Gatuguta.
He said harvested berries must be delivered to the factory for pulping within 12 hours after picking. Failure to do this allows fermentation, which affects quality.
“Unripe berries must not be put together with ripe ones as they produce acid that ruins the quality of the entire batch,” said Njagi.
He said pulping must also get the right amount of water during and after to ensure good quality dry beans.
“For a long time, farmers have delivered coffee to millers without any idea what grade their produce is given. In many cases, the coffee is rated low and this has been a major cause of conflict between farmers and millers.”
Njagi said no crop should be delivered for milling without first ensuring that the results will benefit the farmer.
Joseph Karaba, a farmer who has benefited from the lab, said the only hindrance they faced was marketing.
“The millers force us to enter into written agreements saying they will mill and get us marketers. In the end, we are left at their mercy,” said Mr Karaba.
“Now that grading and quality controls are in place, the government should focus on marketing and removing barriers to make coffee farming lucrative.”
The county government said it would help farmers with value addition for increased earnings. “We have mobilised crop officers to provide required expertise for value addition so we can end up with the highest quality of coffee,” said Governor Anne Waiguru.