Minting cash from coffee value addition

Utake Coffee founder Mbula Musau.

Utake Coffee founder Mbula Musau. She says the coffee produced by her company is carbon-neutral. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Kenya exports more than 90 percent of its coffee raw, to be value-added oversees. Our writer Richard Maosi talked to Utake Coffee founder Mbula Musau at her roasting centre in Athi River, Machakos County.

Why should farmers and agriprenuers be advised to add value to their coffee?

It should be noted that the value of the global retail coffee market is $200 billion, yet producing countries receive only $20 billion for the raw material.

This means non producing countries through investment in roasting, packaging and distribution add more than nine times the value of raw coffee beans, which translates to more jobs in their service industries, taxes and capacity to their governments.

Value-addition leads to farmers and the country fetching good market prices. The value-added product also has a longer shelf-life than raw produce.

The process entails roasting. This helps convert the coffee green bean to roasted and ground coffee that is usually brown. It has a unique aroma too. It is what the consumer brews and takes.

What are the key requirements for one to set up a modern coffee roasting centre?

Running a modern coffee roasting facility requires investment and licensing from relevant goernment authorities. The first is a roaster. The bulk coffee buyer needs licences from the Agriculture and Food Authority, the Coffee Directorate and County Agriculture Departments.

Then there is the Kenya Bureau of Standards mark of quality and the business, fire and health licence from the devolved government.

One should have a facility that complies with the standards of hygiene for producing food.

Then there is the machinery bit, including the roaster, grinder and packaging kits .

What could be ailing the coffee industry in Kenya? Are relevant government agencies doing enough to help the farmer?

There is untapped potential in coffee farming. Farmers, for instance, are underutilising their resources, thus not making money. The resources include land, cooperative society infrastructure, staff and mills .

The many years of underutilisation of coffee-related resources have eaten into farmers’ capital and their ability to invest and produce more.

The government needs seed investment to assist farmers increase their coffee production.

These investments should come in terms of capacity, input and more production material and research that will be greatly rewarded by more foreign exchange income.

Where do you source coffee from and what brands can be made from the raw beans?

We source our coffee in bulk from the Nairobi Coffee Exchange auction. Because of our value-addition, we ensure a competitive price over the auction average.

We get more than 200 kilos of coffee a month and expect to increase the amount this year due to empowered and enlightened customers.

They have contributed to the rising demand.

We prepare roasted coffee under the Utake Coffee Brand. We also offer roasted beans, ground coffee and biodegradable drip coffee bags.

We are the first firm in Africa to ensure the roasted coffee sold is carbon neutral. Our emissions have been reduced and we are offsetting the remaining.

That means our consumers can enjoy an empowering cup of coffee without having a burden on the environment.

Which initiatives have you put in place to ensure farmers produce high quality coffee for the local and international markets?

We are privileged to be the first specialty coffee association – Premier Training Campus – in Africa triple certified. That means we can offer the three coffee modules in sensory skills, green bean and roasting.

We also have a fully fledged laboratory that trains local and international student on Q Grader qualifications.

At the farmer level, we have been fortunate to partner with Fairtrade Africa, GIZ and others to develop specific training on understanding high quality coffee and how to produce it.

We also offer independent quality analysis for farmers with reports explaining quality challenges and possible causes.

This, in turn, helps farmers address these issues and produce high quality coffee.

Which other organisations are you working with to make this lucrative venture a reality?

We are beneficiaries of the AgriBiz Economic Empowerment Programme that is run by the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC). It offered incubation, training and result-based financing, enabling us to increase our roasting capacity tenfold.

Then we won the Coffee Innovation Fund run by GIZ. This enabled us train staff, design and produce the first biodegradable drip coffee bag in Africa and get ourselves certified carbon-neutral.

Then there was International Trade Centre through “she trades” and MARKUP 1 programme featuring East African Quality Champions that we were apart of. That helped review our e-commerce strategy and market positioning.


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