New tea clones promise farmers better returns

Margret Wanjugu a tea farmer affliated to Gathuthi Tea Factoy in Tetu Nyeri,on her farm. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

When tea mosquito bugs descended on Kibet Ngeno’s farm in Kapkatet, Kericho County, the pests caused his tea harvest to drop significantly.

The yields dropped to 500 kilogrammes from 2,000 kilos in a month. The pests left Ngeno’s tea bushes, which had the old clones, with leaves spots thus reducing their market value.  

“I harvested 500kg from four acres of my tea plantation. This is a big drop from the 2,000kg I used to pluck in a month,” says Ngeno.

Interestingly, clones TRFK 31/8 and EPK TN14-3, which are cultivated in the neighbourhood, were not affected by the pest.

Responding to the plight of farmers, Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and Tea Research Institute (TRI) released five new tea clones after a seven-year research period.

The last time TRI released new clones was in 2014 whereby it released the TRFK 704/2 and TRFK 597/1, which have wide adaptability, low caffeine, and are suitable for black and green orthodox teas.

This is besides the usual black Crush, Tear and Curl (CTC) tea for which Kenya is known.

TRI Institute Director Dr Samson Kamunya says the new clones are high yielding, resistant to diseases, and have wide adaptability.

“Clone KTRI 895/17, for example, has wide adaptability, is densely pubescent, and is a slow fermenter. It is, therefore, suitable for green orthodox and white teas, which fetch at least 5 and 50 dollars per kilo, respectively,” he says.

Kamunya explains that the clone takes four years to mature and produces at least 6,000kgs of made tea (27,000 Kg green leaf) per hectare of land.

“The second clone is KTRI 924/11. It also has wide adaptability, is densely pubescent and is a slow fermenter. It is suitable for green orthodox and white tea,” he says.

A farmer can pluck 27,000kgs green leaves (2kg green per bush annually) from the clone which also takes four years to mature. The third clone, KTR1 914/28 also produces a similar quantify of green leaf and has wide adaptability.

“This one is suitable for high-quality back and green orthodox tea,” says Kamunya.

Health benefits

KTRI 914/39, the fourth clone which like the first three clones also produces 27,000kg of green leaf per hectare is suitable for high-quality black orthodox and CTC teas.

“The fifth tea clone we have availed for commercial use this year is KTRI 895/7 also produces 27,000kg of leaf per hectare of land is suitable for high-quality black orthodox and CTC teas.”

Kamunya says a major difference in the tea clones is the content of polyphenols in the pluckable green leaf comprising two leaves and bud. Tea polyphenols, commonly known as catechins, are flavonoid compounds, which heavily impact on quality of black and green teas.

“Polyphenols can help manage blood pressure levels and keep blood vessels healthy and flexible, promoting good circulation. They also help reduce chronic inflammation, another risk factor for heart disease,” explains Kamunya.

Polyphenols can reduce and help control blood sugar levels.

Kamunya explains that polyphenols were estimated from fresh shoots by spectrophotometric method following which the relative quality of the clones can be described as high quality for black CTC teas.

“Medium high quality is between 22.47- 24.40 per cent, medium quality 19.57-22.33 per cent, and low quality 17.53-19.17 per cent,” says Kamunya. 

The TRI Institute director says the quality indices were derived from Tea Tasters sensory evaluation data that was generated in collaboration with the Mombasa Tea Auction Tea Tasters.