Putting Technology in the Hands of Coffee Producers
In coffee production, the drying process is one of the most crucial stages in ensuring that the end product meets specialty coffee standards. A producer can do everything right - have healthy plants, harvest only ripe coffee cherries, de-pulp the fruit the same day it is harvested - but if the coffee is dried poorly, the cup quality (taste) will be diminished, and all that their hard work and investment will have been wasted. There are a number of ways that farmers can dry their coffee, including sun-drying on patios or on plastic, mechanical drying (in a large machine that resembles an enormous laundry dryer), or on raised drying bends, each of which is best-suited to certain conditions.
This past year, DLG identified the drying process as one of the biggest barriers to consistently achieving high quality coffee for our partner cooperatives La Suiza and Santa Anita, which are both located in regions with heavy rainfall and higher levels of humidity. To address this issue, we put together a combination of training and technology to build cooperatives’ capacity to dry their coffee properly.
We started with farmer-led trainings on the topic of quality control, with the main focus being on the drying process. Timoteo, DLG's lead agricultural trainer, facilitated a discussion about the challenges farmers face when it comes to processing, and led participants through identifying best practices and adapting those to their circumstances. As always, the trainer started by building off existing knowledge and encouraging participation by attendees so that they are active learners.
Given that part of the hurdle for these cooperatives were the physical circumstances of drying, DLG funded the construction of drying beds. Beds provide better ventilation during the drying process by raising coffee off the ground and allowing air to flow under the beans. They are also portable, and allow coffee to be moved during rain. The drying beds were constructed using wood and screened mesh, which are accessible and inexpensive materials, making this process easily replicable for farmers living in rural communities. The beans in the beds can be rotated by hand, or by a rake-like tool, to ensure that all beans are drying uniformly.
Lastly, each community received a portable humidity meter, to allow farmers to accurately and quickly measure the moisture content of their coffee. Many farmers evaluate how dry their beans are by feel, but there are actually numerical guidelines on how dry coffee should be. After being trainer on how to use these meters, the farmers are now able to monitor the drying process with immediate feedback, and make any necessary adjustments.
In total, De la Gente staff assisted in building 64 beds, 50 in La Suiza and 14 in Santa Anita, and provided one humidity meter for each cooperative. This work was made possible through the generous support of the Latin American Travel Association (LATA), and individual donors like you.
We are excited to see a marked improvement in the quality of coffee that these two cooperatives produce for the upcoming harvest and to continue working towards a more equitable and inclusive coffee industry.