Peter Kitonga, the chairman of Githiru recounted that the three cooperatives had begun as one large cooperative called Kagumo in 1953. It had begun as a sisal (a natural fiber used to make rope) factory and transitioned to coffee at a time when native Kenyan coffee farmers were only allowed to tend to 100 coffee trees per farmer. The farmers banded together and the line to deliver coffee cherry to the Kagumo factory was three days long.
Peter described that although the large cooperative had split into three smaller communities, the lessons of processing coffee in those early days were still very much with them: the importance of working together, of fighting for independence and holding each other accountable. Recently, a previous corrupt chairman and challenging weather with a low harvest had made for some difficult times at Githiru.
As we dipped our cupping spoons into cup after cup, Peter continued talk about the beauty and the sentimentality that producing coffee had for his community. He talked about how coffee had nurtured and educated the Githiru farmers and the importance of the farmers meeting the people buying their coffee. He said that they had never had visitors before we started showing up year after year--there had always been a great deal of mystery and distrust between farmers, cooperative chairmen and coffee buyers.
My notes from that day on the cupping table in Nairobi describe the typical, mind blowing KCCE cupping: blackberry, currant, tongue-bending acidity pillowing into fresh cream. Elegant and layered coffees with remarkable structure and resilience. But mostly my notes are about the elegance and resilience of the Githiru farmers. And how the lessons from their rich history might guide our promising future together.