Cherries to Compost

Sustainability at washing stations is always on the minds of our producers here in Ethiopia. This is not only due to the environmental impact that a great sustainability programme can have on the surrounding area but also on the local farming community. A great example of this is the compost that is created out of the used cherries after the coffee has been de-pulped.

The pulp constitutes around 40% of the wet weight of the coffee cherry. For washed coffee where the cherry is de-pulped at the beginning of the process, a huge amount of cherry pulp is left over. Imagine a washing station where currently only washed coffees are produced, such as Israel Degfa’s Mokonisa Rare, is processing up to 4 Million Kg of cherries per season, that leaves around 1.6M Kg of coffee pulp as a bi-product. So what to do with it?

Cherry compost is loaded into a truck at Mokonesa Kercha washing station. This will drop off piles of compost for the local farmers to use.

Compost is the answer. Not only is this a great way to make use of the pulp, it also protects the environment. As the cherries are very acidic, if not processed correctly or dumped in water or landfill they can leak harmful toxins into the water supply affecting the local flora and all manner of creatures, the local villagers to say the least!

The pulp is therefore treated to make compost in a special area of the washing station. It is usually a process lasting six to eight months and involves the compost being churned, usually by hand to increase air ventilation and release some of the gases that build up. Worms are often employed, they help with the decomposition process of the cherries and the excrement of the worms also acts as a natural biological fertilizer.

Two workers pile up the new cherry pulp for compost at Israel Degfa’s Uraga Washing station.

Once the compost is ready it is distributed to the farmers. Different stations and cooperatives do this in different ways. Some washing stations will deliver large piles of the compost at drop off points in the surrounding area where any farmers can come to help themselves. Others, such as Sidama Farmers Union will distribute the compost to their member farmers which is seen as an added bonus of being a member with the union.

The compost is a great way to make use of such a large bi-product of coffee production and acts as a great organic fertilizer. Through this process the stations and farmers are able to ensure and maintain that almost all Ethiopian coffee is organically grown, even if not certified. But that is a topic for another day.

Bokasso co-operative, Ethiopia.