Kenya’s earnings from tea have been dropping over quality concerns.
The KTDA sales and marketing manager John Bett spoke with The EastAfrican's Allan Olingo about these concerns.
What determines tea quality?
The difference in quality of tea is determined primarily by husbandry as well as the processing standards at the factory, rainfall pattern, altitude and soil chemistry. We focus on controllable factors: Husbandry, leaf collection and factory operations.
At the farm, we ensure that farmers only pluck the top two leaves and a bud, which have the highest concentration of useful chemicals. We also ensure regular plucking rounds, pruning whenever needed and application of the correct fertiliser once a year.
Which country in the region has the best tea quality and why?
I would like to answer this question at two levels. First is that quality is an important factor in pricing but it is not the only factor. Global supply and demand dynamics are critical in price determination in Mombasa, which is one of the largest export auction in the world.
Teas from different countries differ due to husbandry practices, rainfall patterns, altitudes and soil chemistry. However, buyers make purchase decisions based on the quality of tea from individual factories hence the different performance of factories including those from the same country.
How much tea is Kenya producing and what factors play for or against these numbers?
It varies from year to year. During the just ended financial year, for example, KTDA-managed tea factories received a cumulative 1.18 billion kilogrammes of green leaf from farmers up from 976.78 million kilos received during the same period last year.
This was a 21 per cent growth in green leaf production. There are critical factors in this equation, with the main one being that tea growing areas received improved rainfall during the 2017/2018 financial year.
What are the issues pertinent to tea production?
Tea production is dependent on the amount and distribution of rainfall during the year. This is unlike other regions globally whose production is also influence by seasonal climatic conditions of summer, winter etc.
We are lucky to be within the tropics; hence our production is fairly consistent and is not subject to pests and diseases of economic importance. So the critical determinant of production is only annual rainfall pattern in the country thus the difference in volumes between the 2017/2018 and 2016/2017 financial years.
The former had above average rainfall while the latter was marked by prolonged drought. There is also the climate change phenomenon which is creeping slowly but consistently into our business.
Are there programmes in place to boost tea production?
Over 90 per cent of our farmers have one acre and below under tea. It therefore calls for programmes to boost productivity of such farms in order to make them viable business units.
We have Farmer Field Schools which have been running for a number years. Its aim is to empower farmers to manage their tea farms properly for optimal results through good agricultural practices.
Secondly, we started a financial literacy programme for our farmers whose aim is to ensure that they are equipped with the skills to productively manage their tea earnings and other resources.
The size of individual holdings has been reducing over the years mainly due to sub-division, which has impacted the overall returns to individual farmers.