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Solar drying for coffee beans

Racks for drying coffee beans next to a greenhouse, with hedges in the background.

The challenge

Coffee is one of the major agricultural products of Kenya. Around 700,000 families live from coffee, that they usually grow it in small fields. One of the most important tasks is drying the coffee beans in the sun. This usually takes place in the rainy season between October and December. The drying process comprises several phases, takes between 12 and 14 days and is very labour-intensive. Furthermore, duration and uncertain weather conditions endanger the quality of the dried beans, which is an important indicator of the market price.

The goal

Using solar dryers, farmers can minimize the drying phase to four days and dry the beans under constant conditions. They can therefore save working time, improve the quality of the beans and, in the best case, achieve higher prices. However, apart from a few pilot projects, solar dryers are not very common and are still expensive to purchase. The non-profit organisation Fairtrade Africa wants to change this by introducing eight solar dryers in its 23 cooperating coffee cooperatives. This is intended to accelerate the commercialisation of solar dryer systems in the coffee industry. From an economic point of view, this makes sense: Fairtrade Africa estimates that production costs per kilo can be reduced from 17 to 4 eurocents.

Our partner

The non-governmental organisation Fairtrade Africa operates in 33 African countries supporting small farmers and agricultural workers, advising them on the cultivation and sale of their agricultural products, certifying farms and advocating good working and living conditions. In Kenya, the organisation is active in the coffee, tea and flower sectors. In Kenya’s coffee sector it works with 23 certified coffee cooperatives. For this project, it cooperates with the Coffee Research Institute, which has great expertise in areas such as education and training.

The approach

For solar drying systems to become established in the 23 coffee cooperatives involved, Fairtrade Africa wants to inform them about the new technology and install one system each in eight cooperatives. In pilote projects, three cooperatives working with Fairtrade Africa have already gained first experiences with solar drying systems. The organisation is planning the following steps: It wants to adapt and improve the design of the systems to local conditions. Moreover, it intends to publish manuals for the design, installation and maintenance of the dryers as well as training manuals, that will contain best practice examples from both the three pilot projects and other countries. Together with the Coffee Research Institute, Fairtrade Africa is planning training courses for trainers and courses for its cooperatives. In the end, all 23 coffee cooperatives should be able to purchase solar drying systems.

Machakos, Kiambu, Kirinyanga, Embu, Muranga, Nyeri, Nandy and Kericho counties
Solar energy
Target group
Small-scale coffee producers
03/2020 – 07/2022
Racks for drying coffee beans next to a greenhouse, with hedges in the background.