The Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) has challenged smallholder factories to diversify their products to tap into new markets and keep abreast with changing market dynamics and consumer needs.
The call to diversify comes at a time when tea prices have been dipping over the years on the backdrop of factors such as increased production against static demand and price volatility.
KTDA head of Extension Services and Agriculture, Kanja Thuku, said there was a need for factories to make a shift towards value-added products such as orthodox tea that fetch better prices than the traditional black tea.
This, Thuku said, will help cushion farmers from the volatility of prices associated with traditional Crush Tear Curl (CTC) tea as well as tap into new international markets that are yearning for value-added and premium teas.
“Over time, prices of tea have been coming down, as an organisation, we have thought it wise to have a strategy of diversifying our products instead of relying on one product,” said the officer.
Speaking during a farmers’ field day after a tour of Chinga Tea Factory in Nyeri that has installed an orthodox tea processing line at a cost of Ksh 115 million, Thuku said product diversification was key to sustaining tea farming as a profitable venture.
The officer said orthodox teas were fetching better prices at the tea auction than the normal black tea and thus there was a need for factories to invest in it.
“If you have 20 per cent of orthodox tea and 80 per cent of CTC, the average price for both will be improved and farmers will get better rates,” Thuku noted. Last year a kilo of orthodox tea was selling at $ 2.67 while black tea was trading at $ 3.70 at the tea auction.
Currently, there are 11 factories processing orthodox tea in the country out of a total of 66 that are managed by the agency.
Thuku, however, said there was the need to train farmers to be able to maintain production of good leaf quality and quantity to venture into new markets as well as sustain good prices.
This, he said, called for a regulatory framework to be put in place to ensure the quality of tea being produced and offered in the market is the same across the board.
Meanwhile, Chinga Ward Member of County Assembly (MCA), Kiruga Thuku, asked the agency to protect farmers against price volatility and ensure the returns are commensurate with the amount of labour put in.
He said tea farming was labour intensive and their labour should be well remunerated to ensure cases of farmers uprooting their bushes out of frustrations cease.
Thuku at the same time asked the agency to equip farmers with protective gear including overalls, gloves and gumboots to protect them, especially when applying fertiliser.
He said the majority of fertilisers contain hazardous chemicals that if not handled well could expose farmers to health complications.