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Community Coffee Supports Construction of Solar-Powered Coffee Dryers in Colombia

Coffee growers in Colombia’s northeast region have constructed dozens of new efficient solar coffee dryers thanks in part to a grant from Community Coffee Company.

The low-cost solar drying systems are expected to help increase the quality of the coffee beans and eventually attract higher prices from buyers — providing a boost to an area with a long tradition of cultivating high-quality coffee.

The new infrastructure affects more than 70 farms producing the coveted Toledo specialty coffee from the municipalities of Toledo, Labateca and Chitagá, located in the south of Colombia’s Norte de Santander region that borders Venezuela.

“This is where a great amount of coffee farmers and their families endeavor to produce one of the best coffees from Colombia, with worldwide recognition and great potential due to the region’s environmental conditions,” said Program Coordinator Raúl Fernando Cotámo López. “Their soils, weather, rural infrastructure and culture offer excellent conditions for the coffee industry; therefore, there is much coffee culture, love and tradition towards their crops.”

Community Coffee has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with these farmers, purchasing coffee from the region annually. In support of that continuing connection, Community Coffee also put up $20,000 toward the total $33,000 project cost to fund the solar dryers. The project was also supported by the Coffee Farmers Departmental Committee of Norte de Santander and the coffee farmers themselves.

Growing and Transforming

Cotámo said older and traditional coffee farms throughout the region are modernizing and expanding, leading to an increased demand for better infrastructure for the coffee drying process.

Drying is a critical step in the production process before coffee can be ultimately sold on the market.  Due to their high moisture content at harvest, natural ripe coffee cherries must be dried shortly after pulping the fruit to prevent quality problems that impact the ultimate taste in the cup. Proper drying is the solution, but it takes time and space.

Drying has traditionally  been done in outdoor cement courtyards, which exposes the coffee to the elements, affecting the quality of the flavor and aroma and decreasing its value in national and international markets.

A Solar-Powered Solution

There are several mechanized methods used to dry coffee around the world, but they are generally expensive and less-effective at producing airflow than traditional open-air methods. This is where solar dryers — which are cheap to operate and highly effective — can help.

The project’s tunneled solar canopies are roughly 6 feet by 30 feet and made of wood or bamboo. A dome made of plastic cloth mesh, supported by PVC arches, spans the length of the structure. Coffee is spread out along the inside of the structure, a few centimeters high.

The result is a highly effective and efficient space ideal for drying coffee cherries, with protection from the surrounding environment. With this type of canopy it is possible to dry up to 300 kilograms of washed coffee at a time — all through the power of the sun.

The project took about 12 months to implement, and Cotámo says he hopes it and additional efficient production equipment and techniques will help boost incomes for the farmers as well as the agricultural economy of the region.