The Slopes of 8 was the pioneering producer group in our Farm-to-roaster sourcing model in Kenya. This model focuses on shortening the coffee value chain for smallholder coffee producers in the country, and as a result, empowering the producers. In this model, independent producers enter an agreement with our in-country partners, who provide them with technical, logistical, financial and commercial support day-by-day. They deliver the coffee to the Kahawa Bora dry mill for milling, QC and export preparation. The coffee is then sold to us with transparent, farm-return pricing.
Since we want to support this group as much as we can, we buy their entire production. This way, they manage to sell their entire production with good revenue, instead of just a section to coffee shoppers passing by. As usual, the Slopes of 8 coffees come in AA, AB and PB bean selections. Next to the classic higher scoring AA, AB and PB lots, this year you will find the C grade on our list. This lot has smaller beans with a distribution over screen 13 and 15. These get separated from the larger screens in the dry mill, just before export.
Every year, the producers gain experience and knowledge from the previous year. With the year to year direct returns, the farm owners can invest in the farm and better processing infrastructure.
Or buy a nice watch.
The Slopes of 8
The Slopes of 8 project groups eight farmers on neighboring hills on the slopes of Mount Kenya in Kirinyaga county. They were selected for this project, based on a selection of criteria from our in-country partner’s team of agronomists. The cherries from these eight farmers were processed at the facilities on their own land instead of at a central wet mill, where normally all production from various farmers is processed together. Also at the Kawaha Bora dry mill, the lots were kept separate. Kenyacof bought the lot directly from them, bypassing the auction, so the return the farmers would be larger. They don’t have to pay the milling and marketing fees to the cooperative, which means a huge saving on the direct return.
We strongly promote this collaboration in Kenya, because it gives more power, control and recognition to the producers. In this structure, more money flows back directly to them.
The idea of being part of a group of farmers is slightly different from participating in a big Cooperative Society. In a small unit like this, the number of farmers combining their coffees is much smaller while the focus on and control of quality is better.
The Slopes of 8 coffee is processed following the traditional Kenyan method of 24-hour fermentation, washing and final soaking. In the case of these eight farmers, the processing was done on a much smaller scale than in the cooperative system with the large factories, on equipment they have in their own yards. Depending on weather conditions, the parchment takes around 14 days to be properly dried on the raised tables they built themselves. The producers get support during all steps of the production process from Wycliffe, agronomist and most experienced Kenyan coffee expert.
The producers and farms behind Slopes of 8
Samuga (Owner: Stephen Munene/ Location: Mutira) – Stephen is nearing his eighties. Luckily his family helps out in the coffee business. He started farming coffee and tea in 1964 and has 5 acres planted with SL34 only.
Njirungi (Owner: Charles Mwenje/ Location: Mutira) – Charles has 4 blocks of coffee in Mutira, where he started planting in the year 2000. He has almost 4,000 stems of SL28, SL34 and Batian.
Kabaru (Owner: Benson Mithano/ Location: Kanyekiini) – Benson is also in his seventies. His family helps out on the farm and at the mill. He planted 2,200 stems in 1975 and produces an average of 20,000 kgs of cherry yearly.
Kabumbu (Owner: Joseph Karaba/ Location: Kaguyu) – Kabumbo Growers was founded by two brothers, Joseph and Stanley. Joseph is in his 60s years and retired to being a full-time coffee farmer. Joseph inherited 400 stems from his father and planted another 900 stems recently. His brother Stanley has turned 70. He has 600 stems in the block he inherited from his father plus another 200 recently planted trees.
Kimbo (Owner: Anthony Njiraini/ Location: Inoi) – Anthony is 61 years old, married and has 4 children. He has 3 blocks of coffee and a total of 2,100 stems. He produces between 10,000 to 12,000 kgs of cherry every year.
Rugongo (Owner: Harry Gachoki/Location: Mwerua) – Harry is 59 years old. He has 3 children and is a full-time farmer after retiring from working in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation. His experience contributes to good agricultural practices to be taken at the farm. At Rugongo, he planted 2,000 trees in 1989.
Gichangi (Owners: Gichangi brothers/ Location: Mutira) – Gichangi Estate is a family business, managed by Charles, David, Stanley and Julius. Together, they own two farms and a total of 8.5 acres are under coffee. The first trees were planted by their father Stephen in 1955.
Kakumutho (Owner: Jane Muthike/ Location: Njukiini) – Jane was named the Secretary of the group. She has 10 acres of SL28 and Ruiru 11 and produces 40,000 kgs of cherry on average every year.
Coffee production in Kenya dates back to the late 1880s when French Missionaries reportedly brought seeds to the Taita Hills area. They introduced the crop to the Kiambu district in 1896, where coffee found a great combination of altitude, soil and temperature which combine into the high quality for which Kenyan coffee is known across the globe. Still today, the biggest coffee growing area spreads from Kiambu, on the outskirts of Nairobi, up to the slopes of Mount Kenya. The Counties in this region also known as Central Kenya – Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Murang’a and Nyeri – have an annual production of around 39,000 metric tons of green coffee. This volume accounts for almost 70% of the national production. Other coffee growing areas are Machakos (Eastern Kenya) and Bungoma (Western Kenya), but volumes are significantly smaller.
Although patterns may differ from area to area, Kenya is generally known to have two main rainy seasons which dictate two crops. Long rains occur from March to May, while a shorter rainy season occurs around October. The dry spells that anticipate those rains trigger two flowering periods: February/March for the country’s main crop, and September for the early or ’fly’ crop. Central areas are able to produce and deliver coffee in both seasons, whereas Machakos, for example, is known for only having production during the early crop season.
Coffee plants naturally find extremely fertile soils in Kenya’s growing regions. Soils are young and volcanic and very rich in organic matter. The altitude in coffee growing areas ranges from a minimum of 1280m in Embu, Eastern part of Mount Kenya region, to a high of 2300m in Nyeri, on the Western slopes.
Organization & Processing
Nowadays, approximately 55 % of all coffee production comes from smallholder farms. The number varies greatly from area to area (Kiambu 14%, Kirinyaga 72%, Machakos 80%). Smallholder farmers are organized in Cooperative Societies, which own the wet mills where farmers deliver ripe cherries. At wet mills (also known as factories) cherries are pulped and fermented for approximately 24 hours. After fermentation, coffee is soaked in tanks full of water and washed in channels.
Still at the washing channel, the wet parchment separates in different grades. P1 is the heaviest parchment, then P2 and finally lights (floaters). Any remaining cherries are removed and processed separately. Coffee dries on raised tables, a process which can take up to 3 weeks. At night and during the hottest periods, parchment is covered so that drying is homogenous. Dry parchment is then delivered to a centralized dry mill. The mill hulls, screens and grades the coffee prior to its marketing at the weekly auctions in Nairobi.
Approximately 90% of the entire coffee production is ‘washed’. The remaining 10% consists of usually unripe cherries that dry on trays in the sun. It can take up to 5 weeks for the coffee to dry with this method. The resulting low-grade coffee goes to market as ‘Mbuni’.