Kenya is a major producer of the best tea in the world. It has more than 110,000 hectares of land under tea. Tea is grown in the highlands where there is adequate rainfall and low temperatures.
Tea is a non-alcoholic beverage which is obtained from the tender leaves of a tropical plant. The leaves are about 5 cm long. It was probably ﬁrst grown in China around the turn of the 6thCentury. The major tea species are the Aswan Variety, commonly grown in India and Sri Lanka and the Chinese Variety. Kenya is the largest producer of tea in Africa. Kenya’s tea is the best in the world market and ranks among the top six large world producers
Tea Growing Areas in Kenya
The actual areas of tea growing can be divided into the highlands on the east and west of the Rift Valley. The western highlands growing areas include:
- Cherangani Hills
The eastern highlands growing areas include
- Nyambene Hills in Nyambene
Conditions Necessary for Tea Growing in Kenya
The areas discussed above experience the following geographical conditions which have made them suitable for tea growing.
- Climate – The areas experience cool to wann temperatures averaging 21°C during the growing season of not less than eight months. The annual rainfall received is over 1,500 mm well distributed throughout the year. The warm and wet conditions permit rapid leaf production and increase the number of annual pickings.
- Highlands Conditions – The areas are favourable as they lie at high altitudes of 1000 m to 1700 m above sea level. The highlands and hill slopes have offered good natural drainage ideal for tea farming.
- Soils – The soils are deep well drained and slightly acidic. Most of these areas are volcanic highlands where volcanic rocks have been weathered to form deep fertile soils e.g. Cherangani and Nyambene Hills.
- Shade – Tea does well in areas which are shielded from strong sunlight and violent winds. In the tea growing areas of Kenya there are many isolated trees on the plantation, while some plantations are on the margins of forests. This offers protection not only to the tea but also to the pickers.
- Labour – Tea cultivation and processing are basically labour intensive. Field preparation, weeding, pruning and picking goes on throughout the year. Female labour is preferable for picking since it requires tenderness, skill and patience.
- Processing Factories – Tea leaves are highly perishable. Consequently tea factories must be located within the growing area for quick processing.
- Transport Infrastructure – Tea growing areas need to have good passable roads. This is to ensure that picked leaves reach the factory fast before the quality deteriorates. .
- Availability of Capital – Tea growing is capital intensive. A large capital outlay is required in picking and for the cultivation.
Tea Cultivation in Kenya
Cultivation is either on small holdings or plantations. The land is first cleared. Tea seedlings or cuttings are raised for about 18 months in a nursery and when they attain a height of 3’0 cm, they are transplanted. Tea is usually planted in contoured rows 1.5 m apart. Weeding, manuring and pruning are carried out at regular intervals. The ﬁrst picking occurs between 2-4 years after planting the crop, but full bearing is reached after ﬁve years. Picking is carried out fortnightly for approximately a century before being uprooted and new plants grown.
The main tea species grown in Kenya are the Aswan variety commonly grown in Sri lanka and India and the China variety.
Tea Processing in Kenya
- When the bushes are ready only the two top leaves and a bud (flush) are picked.
- The green leaves are transported in airy baskets to a collecting centre for sorting out and weighing.
- The weighed leaves are transported by lorries ﬁtted with bags to the processing factories where they are weighed again.
- The tea leaves are then spread out on long wire trays.
- The leaves are then dried by blasting of warm air from underneath the trays. The leaves are then passed through a_ set of rollers to chop them.
- The leaves are then placed in containers for fermenting, reducing tannic acid and changing the colour to grey brown.
- The leaves are then passed through a conveyor belt which takes them to a tunnel which is at a temperature of 100°C for roasting (drying) after which they turn black.
- The leaves are sifted, graded and tasted for classification.
- The graded tea is packed in tea chests for export and small packages for local market.
Tea Marketing in Kenya
Some of the tea is consumed locally while a huge amount is sold on the international market. The leading consumers of Kenyan tea are countries that make up the European Union such as Britain, France, Germany, Netherlands. Another major destination is the Middle East in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Some exports are also made to African countries especially COMESA members such as Egypt and Sudan. Marketing of tea is done by the Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA) which was founded in 1964. Apart from Marketing tea it also promotes production of tea among small scale farmers and sensitises them on high quality production of tea.
Achievements of KTDA
The overall success in the tea industry can be traced to the K.T.D.A. The authority brings together over 150,000 small scale farmers in the country. The total tea production has been greatly increased over the years.
- The KTDA accounts for over two thirds of the total leaf production in the country. The authority is responsible for a good percentage of foreign exchange earnings from tea.
- The KTDA has financed many tea manufacturing industries. These are spread out in the tea growing districts of Kisii. Nyamira, Vihiga, Kericho, Nandi, Trans Nzoia, Nyeri and Embu.
- The KTDA assists in marketing the tea. The farmers have a good bargaining base through the authority.
- The authority has aimed at high quality yields. This has ensured handsome prices for the farmers.
- They provide inputs to tea farmers e.g. fertilisers and seedlings.
Problems Facing Tea Farmers in Kenya
- Poor roads – The poor feeder roads in the tea growing areas lead to delays in collection and delivery of the green leaf hence causing wastage. This is worsened by the fact that tea is highly perishable and needs quick transportation to the processing factories.
- Delayed payments – In some instances, fanner payment for tea delivered is delayed. This coupled with mismanagement of funds lowers the fanners morale.
- Climate Hazards - Climatic hazards, for example, prolonged droughts, hailstorms, lead to destruction of the crop. This lowers the quality and quantity of the yields.
- Pests and diseases – Pests and diseases such as the black tea thrip, red spider mites, weevils and beetles destroys crops hence reducing the farmer’s yields.
- Fluctuation in world Prices – The farmers also experiences fluctuation of prices in the world market which makes it difficult for them to plan ahead. High cost of farm input The production cost of tea is high. This is evident through the high prices of farm inputs which reduces the farmer’s profit margin. It also leads to low yields as some farmers cannot afford.
- Signiﬁcance of Tea Farming – Tea fanning has led to a number of beneﬁts to the economy of Kenya. These are:
- Foreign Exchange – Through the export of tea the country earns foreign exchange. Currently it is the country’s leading export crop.
- Creation of employment - Many people are employed in the tea industry either in the factories or in the farms.
- Development of industries – Tea growing has contributed to industrial growth through the establishment of processing factories and packaging industries.
- Development of infrastructure – Transport lines have been constructed and existing ones improved to link the farms to the factories. This has led to improved infrastructure.
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