Visit to New KPCU Dandora Plant, the melting pot of quality coffee

The New KPCU Dandora coffee milling plant is not your usual image of a national icon. It surpasses it, by far.

Headed by plant manager and quality controller Joseph Githinji and his team, they oversaw a smooth transition from the dilapidated former premises in central Nairobi to the current, efficient factory.

The year was 2004 when the Dandora plant was upgraded.

For a while after that, the factory was used to mill dry-process coffee, locally known as ‘mbuni,’ besides utilising some of its big warehouses to store parchment and milled green coffee awaiting marketing.

Steadily and surely, Mr Githinji and his team championed the upgrade of green coffee milling from the New KPCU headquarters at Wakulima Market, near Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD), to the ambitious Dandora plant.

He explains: “Currently, the Dandora factory is the largest coffee processing facility under New KPCU. Here, we provide farmers with a range of services, including milling, grading, sorting, and storage of coffee beans in both parchment and green form”.

In addition, the plant offers quality checks and prepares reports on the grades and value of each farmer’s coffee. These reports are then shared with the growers to inform them of the possible selling price of their produce.

The plant also serves buyers who, after purchasing their coffee from the exchange market, may wish to store it for periods exceeding the stipulated two weeks as they explore the markets.


New and upgraded machines

Mr Githinji notes that, although the New KPCU inherited dilapidated facilities from the defunct union, they have made concerted efforts to upgrade and add new equipment to ensure better services to the enrolled farmers.

“We use some of the latest processing equipment solutions, sorting machines and a modern quality laboratory, which is also being furnished to meet international standards,” he explains, adding that the plant is calibrated and serviced every year after the main crop has been delivered.

Today, the milling facility that sits on 54 acres of land is one of the largest processing factories in Kenya, handling up to four tonnes of coffee per hour, he says.

The national coffee farmers’ union has other coffee milling plants in Meru, Kirinyaga (at Sagana) and in Machakos (at Tala); with upcoming factories such as the one in Kitale, Trans-Nzoia County, to serve Western Kenya region.

However, the Dandora facility serves farmers from all over the country, with the main growers being from Western, Rift Valley, Kiambu, Muranga and Machakos regions.

It currently receives about 4,000 bags of 50kg of parchment 1, 2, 3, 4, and ‘mbuni’ from farmers a day.


Delivery and milling processes

Farmers planning to deliver their parchment to the plant must book the same either by phone call or email, he adds.

They will then be required to apply and obtain a movement permit from their respective county administrations and a notification will be sent to them indicating the date of delivery.

On delivery day, the lorry carrying the parchment is passed through a weighing bridge where the load is captured and assigned a unique number. Thereafter, the parchment is taken to the store to await milling.

“Every parchment delivered must be given an out-turn number. This helps with traceability of the farmers’ produce, if need be,” explains Githinji.

Before milling, farmers have to state whether they would like their coffee milled immediately. They are also allowed to come over personally and monitor the process, unlike in the past when they were kept in the dark after delivery of their coffee.

After milling and grading, a 2kg sample is drawn from the green coffee for quality checks by liquorers – professionally trained experts in classifying coffee through tasting.

“We then send to the farmers detailed reports which have, among other information, the grades of their coffee, price catalogs and the dates it will be taken to the auction market,” explains the quality controller.

From there, another 9kg sample is drawn from the processed commodity for the auction market at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange, the Wakulima Market-based central coffee auction platform where buyers and sellers assemble every Tuesday to trade transparently and efficiently.

The plant manager emphasises that this entire process – from delivery to the market – takes a maximum of one month unless there is congestion in the system, as occasionally happens during the crop peak seasons owing to huge deliveries.

“Other than congestion, the process might also take a bit longer if farmers deliver un-millable quantities of less than 30 bags of 50kg. When this occurs, we wait for more coffee of the same quality from other growers and bulk it together before milling,” Githinji notes.

Farmers served by the Dandora New KPCU plant are mostly drawn from co-operatives and unions through which they deliver their coffee. Individual growers have to register their farms as estates and deliver their produce as such.

Generally, after milling, coffee is stored in 60kg quality sisal fibre bags at the plant’s warehouses. For selling purposes, they are reduced to the required 50kg standard.

Sorting is normally done at a buyer’s request. It can be done either manually by hired casual labourers or mechanically by the plant’s colour sorter machine.

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