Tea Farming

Tea farming was first introduced in Kenya as early as 1903 by European settlers around Limuru. Objectively it was restricted to large scale farming as a way of maintaining quality. At that time the locals were not allowed to venture into cash crop farming, which changed after independence. Eventually this led to locals growing tea which spread around the country allowing tea to be one of the mainstays of our economy. Currently Kenya is one of the leading producers of tea in the world and its tea is considered one of the best in the world.

Thanks to research there are many varieties including some that are high yielding hence better earnings for the farmer from the crop. In fact, one variety, purple tea, is currently gaining popularity for fetching high prices, health benefits, high international market value and its resistance to drought.

Tea is grown from seed (not common nowadays), cuttings and tissue culture. Proper spacing, approximately 100cm by 80cm is required with an acre holding up to 6000 tea bushes. Basically, an acre of tea if well looked after should produce between 800kgs and 1000kgs of tea leaves per month. It takes about 3 years to mature for harvest. A mature tea plant lives for 20 – 100 years depending on variety.

Throughout the years, Kenya has been able to produce enough to meet demand which has been growing both locally and internationally. Currently Kenya produces approximately 40 million kgs of tea per year though way below its potential. It is estimated that local consumption accounts for 5% of the production while 95% is exported. Kenya exports tea to Egypt, Britain, Pakistan among many other countries.

Where Tea is grown in Kenya

It is a fact that there are over 400,000 small scale farmers who account for almost 60% of tea produced in Kenya. With the remainder accounted for by the multinationals who practice large scale farming. Tea farming is spread across 19 tea growing counties which include Kericho, Kiambu, Bomet, Meru, Kisii, Murang’a among others. Kericho, Bomet and Nandi counties are the leaders in production.

Many have experienced challenges in the sector, which contributed to some farmers uprooting tea bushes and shifting to other crops. Others include middlemen in the value chain, low prices and war in Ukraine. Despite these, the Government has instituted reforms to improve governance and streamline the industry for the betterment of all stakeholders. It also announced that the farmers are going to receive bonus payment, the highest since 2016. In deed this should encourage farmers to continue with the good work. Which will improve on their production for a better income.

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