Coffee is one of Kenya’s major agricultural products. Around 700,000 families earn their livelihoods from the production of coffee beans, which they usually grow in small fields. One of the most important tasks in coffee production is the drying of 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 their market price.
Using solar dryers, farmers can minimize the drying phase to four days and dry the beans under consistent conditions. This save working time, improves the quality of the beans and, in the best case, achieves 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 partner 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.
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 for good working and living conditions. In Kenya, the organisation is active in the coffee, tea and flower sectors. In Kenya’s coffee sector, Fairtrade Africa 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.
For solar drying systems to become established in the 23 coffee cooperatives involved, Fairtrade Africa plans to inform them about the new technology and install one system each in eight cooperatives. In pilot projects, three cooperatives working with Fairtrade Africa have already gained their first experiences with solar drying systems. The organisation is planning the following steps: to adapt and improve the design of the systems to local conditions; and 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.