Kenya is one of the largest tea producers in the world, with tea farming being a crucial part of the country’s economy. The tea industry in Kenya supports millions of people, including smallholder farmers who grow tea on small plots of land.
In recent years, there have been several trends in tea farming in Kenya. One of the notable trends is the increasing adoption of sustainable farming practices. Many tea farmers in Kenya are now embracing sustainable farming practices such as organic farming, which helps to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Another trend in tea farming in Kenya is the increasing focus on quality. Kenyan tea is known for its unique flavor and aroma, and tea farmers are now investing in improving the quality of their tea. This includes improving the processing methods and investing in better equipment to ensure that the tea is of the highest quality.
History of Tea Farming in Kenya
Tea farming has a long history in Kenya, dating back to the early 20th century. In 1903, a colonial settler named G.W. Caine introduced tea to the country from India. However, it wasn’t until 1924 that commercial tea production began, when Malcolm Fyers Bell was sent by Brooke Bonds to start the first commercial estates in present-day Limuru. Since then, the tea industry has grown tremendously, and Kenya is now one of the leading tea producers in the world.
Initially, tea was grown on small farms by indigenous farmers, but the government later took over the industry and established large-scale tea plantations. The Tea Act of 1954 provided for the establishment of the Tea Board of Kenya, which was responsible for regulating and promoting the tea industry. Since then, the tea industry has undergone many changes, including the privatization of tea factories and the establishment of smallholder tea farming.
Today, tea farming is a major source of income for many Kenyan farmers, with over 500,000 smallholder farmers growing tea on approximately 200,000 hectares of land. The tea industry employs over 3 million people, both directly and indirectly, and contributes significantly to the country’s economy.
Kenya is well-known for its production of black tea, which is grown in the highlands where there is adequate rainfall. The tea is grown in altitudes ranging from 1,500 to 2,700 meters above sea level, which gives it a unique flavor and aroma. The tea industry in Kenya has faced many challenges over the years, including low prices, competition from other tea-producing countries, and climate change. However, the industry has continued to grow, and there have been many positive developments in recent years.
Also Read: Tea Farming In Kenya
Current State of Tea Farming in Kenya
Tea farming is a crucial sector of the Kenyan economy, and it provides employment to thousands of Kenyans. The tea industry in Kenya is dominated by smallholder farmers, who cultivate tea on small plots of land. According to the Tea Directorate, there are over 560,000 smallholder tea farmers in Kenya, and they contribute over 60% of the total tea production in the country.
Tea production in Kenya has been on an upward trend in recent years. According to Statista, Kenya produced nearly 540,000 metric tons of tea in 2021, and the production volume is expected to increase in the coming years. The tea industry is a significant foreign exchange earner for Kenya, and it accounts for about 26% of the country’s total export earnings.
Despite the growth in tea production, smallholder tea farmers in Kenya face numerous challenges. One of the significant challenges is low prices for their tea. Smallholder farmers sell their tea to the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), which is the largest tea buyer in Kenya. However, the prices offered by KTDA are often low, and this affects the income of smallholder farmers.
Another challenge facing smallholder tea farmers is climate change. Tea farming requires specific climatic conditions, including adequate rainfall and moderate temperatures. However, changes in weather patterns, such as prolonged droughts and floods, have affected tea production in some regions of Kenya. In addition, pests and diseases, such as the tea mosquito, can also affect tea production.
Efforts are being made to address some of the challenges facing smallholder tea farmers in Kenya. For example, the government has implemented reforms aimed at revitalizing the tea sub-sector. The reforms include the implementation of Executive Order No. 3 of 2021, which seeks to improve the governance and management of the tea industry. The government has also provided subsidies and other incentives to smallholder tea farmers to boost their production and income.
Challenges Facing Tea Farmers in Kenya
Tea farming is a significant contributor to Kenya’s economy, providing employment to thousands of people and generating foreign exchange. However, small-scale tea farmers face numerous challenges that hinder their productivity and profitability. Some of the challenges facing tea farmers in Kenya include:
- Climate Change: Tea farming is highly dependent on rainfall, and prolonged droughts can lead to reduced yields and poor quality tea.
- High Production Costs: The cost of inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and labor is high, making it difficult for small-scale farmers to compete with large-scale tea estates.
- Low Tea Prices: Small-scale tea farmers often receive low prices for their tea due to the dominance of large tea estates in the market.
- Lack of Credit Facilities: Small-scale tea farmers face challenges accessing credit facilities, which limits their ability to invest in their farms and improve productivity.
- Poor Infrastructure: Poor roads and limited access to electricity and water supply make it difficult for small-scale tea farmers to transport their tea and access other essential services.
To address these challenges, the government and other stakeholders need to invest in infrastructure development, provide credit facilities to small-scale tea farmers, and improve access to markets. Additionally, there is a need for research and development to identify tea varieties that are resistant to climate change and are more productive and profitable for small-scale farmers.
Emerging Trends in Tea Farming in Kenya
Tea farming in Kenya has been facing challenges due to climate change, but there are also emerging trends that are shaping the industry. Here are some of the emerging trends in tea farming in Kenya:
- Organic and sustainable farming: There is a growing demand for organic and sustainably grown tea. Farmers are adopting practices such as natural pest control, composting, and intercropping to reduce their environmental impact and produce high-quality tea.
- Value addition: Tea producers are being encouraged to add value to their tea by processing it into different products such as herbal teas, tea blends, and instant tea. This not only increases their earnings but also creates more job opportunities.
- Technology: Technology is being used to improve tea farming in Kenya. For example, farmers are using drones to map their farms and identify areas that need attention. They are also using weather monitoring systems to predict weather patterns and adjust their farming practices accordingly.
Another trend that is emerging is the use of data analytics to improve tea farming practices. Farmers are collecting data on factors such as soil quality, rainfall patterns, and temperature to make informed decisions about their farming practices. This helps them to optimize their yields and produce high-quality tea.
Overall, these emerging trends are helping tea farmers in Kenya to overcome the challenges they face and produce high-quality tea sustainably. By adopting these practices, tea farmers are not only improving their livelihoods but also contributing to the growth of the tea industry in Kenya.
Future Outlook for Tea Farming in Kenya
Tea farming in Kenya is facing significant challenges due to climate change, low prices, and competition from other crops. However, there are also some positive developments that could help sustain the industry in the future.
One of the main challenges facing tea farming in Kenya is climate change. As temperatures rise and rainfall patterns become more unpredictable, tea farmers are struggling to maintain their yields and quality. However, there are some efforts underway to help farmers adapt to these changes. For example, the Ethical Tea Partnership has been working with farmers to develop climate-resilient tea varieties and improve water management practices.
Another challenge facing tea farming in Kenya is low prices. Many small-scale farmers are struggling to make ends meet, as prices at the Mombasa tea auction have averaged around $1.80 this year, consistently below the critical $2 mark. However, there are some efforts underway to help farmers get better prices for their tea. For example, a dedicated agency is needed to give priority to lifting the tea industry and promoting tea consumption globally.
Despite these challenges, there are also some positive developments that could help sustain the tea industry in Kenya. For example, some tea growers are shifting to produce other crops as climate change threatens tea plantations in the country. Pineapple is one of the crops that has been identified as a potential alternative to tea, as it requires less water and is more resistant to drought. Additionally, some farmers are exploring organic tea production as a way to differentiate their products and get better prices in the market.
In conclusion, the future outlook for tea farming in Kenya is uncertain, but there are some positive developments that could help sustain the industry in the long run. Efforts to develop climate-resilient tea varieties, improve water management practices, and promote alternative crops like pineapple could help farmers adapt to the challenges posed by climate change. Additionally, efforts to improve prices and promote organic tea production could help farmers get better prices for their products and differentiate themselves in the market.
Sources: Kagira, Elias Kiarie, Sarah Wambui Kimani, and Kagwathi Stephen Githii. “Sustainable methods of addressing challenges facing small holder tea sector in Kenya: A supply chain management approach.” J. Mgmt. & Sustainability 2 (2012): 75. Links: http://erepository.uonbi.ac.ke/handle/11295/80099
Cheserek, Beatrice Chepkoech, Aziz Elbehri, and John Bore. “Analysis of links between climate variables and tea production in the recent past in Kenya.” Donnish Journal of Research in Environmental Studies 2.2 (2015): 005-017. Link: https://www.academia.edu/download/79013097/cheserek-et-al.pdf