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Rung’eto FCS – Karimikui Wet Mill

Kirinyaga County, Rungeto District, Kenya
Partner since: 2018 Traceable to: 1400 Members Altitude: 1825 - 1900 MASL Varietals: SL 34, SL 28

Cherries are floated before pulping, soaked overnight then washed again through channels that float and separate by grade; drying on raised beds for 12-15 days average.

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Community Context

Follow the river Kii into the foothills of Mt. Kenya and you’ll come across a field of drying beds; the largest flat space anywhere around. This is the latest investment of the Karimikui factory, which was founded in 1977 after the failure of the once-famous Ngiriama Cooperative Society. Today Karimikui represents 1,400 smallholders in the Kirinyaga Region. They are members of the Rung’eto Farmers Cooperative Society, who also represents Kiangoi F.C.S and Kii F.C.S, the latter of which is named after the river Kii that runs through the area.

The Rung’eto Farmers society also deals in dairy, in a big way. Milk profits pay monthly dividends to members, allowing annual coffee profits to be reinvested. They are FairTrade Certified.

Country Context

Kenya is an enigma. It occupies a top spot in specialty – Kenyan top lots are always amongst the most expensive of any harvest. But yet it’s a country where coffee production is dropping year over year. Kenya is a place where traceability is given, but knowing what you want and how to get it are two different things. Rarely do we find partners more capable, and loyalties more difficult to navigate than we do in Kenya. For all the aforementioned reasons, competition in Kenya is fierce, making prized coffees feel like even more of a success.
However, no matter how formally the industry is structured, coffee still remains a system of people. And in a country where farmers own their own cherry production, there is additional power to connecting with coffee’s most important stakeholder. Farmers can, for example, point you to the best collections from every harvest, or delay sending their lots to auction to give you another week to sample. At request they can change the way they separate lots, bringing new products to market in a year that would take other countries nearly a decade to do.
But experimentation is not the name of the game. With washed coffees working so well, you won’t find many a manager willing to mess around with different fermentations, flotation, drying times or with certifications like organic.
The experiment instead is that of business model. How do cooperatives normalize earnings to keep their members engaged in coffee? How do we take away red tape to encourage more farmers to plant more coffee, as opposed to corn or dairy? How can small estates split off and succeed under their own pulping license? Is it better to sell through auction or directly to an international buyer – can you afford to cut out your marketing agent? Once you speak to these problems you are speaking the language of coffee in Kenya – this is a country that already knows how to coffee.