Tea farming in Kenya
Tea farming in Kenya

Tea farming in Kenya

Tea is a beverage beloved worldwide by most people. In Kenya, the beverage is enjoyed in most households, workplaces, and restaurants as breakfast, an accompaniment to meals and as part of brunch.  

Production of tea began in the 1920s as commercial farms owned by settlers. Currently, Kenya is one of the top world producers of black tea. Other varieties produced in green tea, yellow tea, and white tea. Large-scale farmers produce these varieties (apart from black tea) on order.

The Kenya Tea Development Agency is responsible for significant tea production and serves as a union for small-scale farmers. The total output from the agency makes up more than 60% of the tea produced. KTDA is composed of more than 500,000 farmers and 66 tea factories.

Another organization involved in the Kenyan tea industry is the Tea Board of Kenya through which the government exercises control over the industry. The board performs functions such as registration of tea growers, licensing tea-processing factories, brokers, packaging factories and overseeing the marketing of tea locally and internationally.

Government policies such as liberalization of the tea industry have led to increased productivity in the sector. The formation of KTDA has helped small-scale farmers during planting, harvesting, collection, and marketing of tea enabling them to benefit from their labor. -

Statistics

Tea is a major export in Kenya and forms the third leading producer in the world only surpassed by India and Sri Lanka. Kenya grows her tea on an area greater than 150000 hectares, which generate close to 350,000 metric tons of made tea. Out of the tea, more than 325,000 metric tons are exported while the rest is sold in the domestic market.

Cultivation of tea

The tropical climate and favorable soil conditions in various parts of Kenya allow for tea cultivation. Some of the tea growing areas in Kenya include Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Trans Nzoia, Kisii, Nyamira, Meru, Nandi, Kiambu, Thika, Nakuru, Bomet, Kericho and Murang’a. These areas receive well-distributed rainfall of between 1200-1400mm p.a. and deep volcanic soils.

 Farmers often replenish soil nutrients with fertilizers. New tea varieties have been developed through research to increase productivity and in adaptation to the changing climatic conditions. The Tea Research Foundation of Kenya has, for instance, developed more than 40 varieties of tea. These improved varieties are propagated vegetatively.

Cultivation of tea is labor intensive especially during harvesting. Some large-scale tea farms have embraced technology to provide labor during harvesting.

Processing

Most factories in Kenya produce tea through crushing, tearing and curling to produce the common flavor of black tea most preferred by most export markets. Ensuring the processing of quality tea begins during planting, care, and harvesting. During harvesting, the tender leaves and bud are carefully harvested and treated through drying and fermentation. 

During processing, the tea is graded and packed ready for the market. BP1 (Broken Pekoe), PF1 (Pekoe Fanning), Fngs1 (Fannings) and PD (Pekoe Dust) are the major varieties in the country.

Challenges

The Kenyan tea industry faces some problems. Some of these include fluctuating market prices due to competition from other tea exporters. Since tea is a cash crop, the international market determines mostly the cost of the tea. Poor infrastructure leads to increased production costs for factories reducing the profit margin. Other problems include lack of credit facilities for farmers leads to an increase in the cost of production. Varying weather conditions such as drought lead to reduced yield and destruction of the crop and therefore low income from the tea. The reduced income makes it hard for the small-scale farmer to benefit from the crop.

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