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Market boost as more countries acquire a taste for Ke

By Macharia Kamau | March 2nd 2021

Workers use tea picking machines at James Finlays Kenya farm in Kericho. Kenya’s tea is highly sought globally because of its quality. [File, Standard]

Kenya made major inroads into several new export markets for its tea, which increased volumes of the commodity and, in turn, grew earnings for farmers last year, new data has shown.

This softened the blow on the industry from the coronavirus pandemic that has wreaked havoc on virtually all sectors of the economy.

Whether a one-off incident or a mark of success in diversifying tea export markets, Kenya’s tea got a huge buy-in from non-traditional markets.

According to the Tea Directorate, some traditional markets also posted remarkable growth, shielding the country from the impact of the pandemic as well as the decline in global tea prices.

The country’s tea exports to Australia, for instance, increased by 2,700 per cent, with the market growing the fastest in the course of the year.

While it is yet to emerge among the top consumers of Kenyan tea, Australia consumed 485,171kg of tea last year from 17,210kg in 2019, according to the directorate.

The data also shows that tea exports to Cote d’Ivoire grew 728 per cent over the year to 42,864kg from 5,174kg. Export to France grew 691 per cent to 61,728kg last year, from 7,800kg in 2019.

Also posting a sharp growth was Germany, which bought 4.48 million kilos of Kenyan tea in 2020, a 412 per cent increase against 875,383kg exported to the same country in 2019.

Other markets that grew by huge margins include Morocco (470 per cent), Burkina Faso (275 per cent), Azerbaijan (229 per cent) and Uzbekistan (226 per cent).

“During the month of December, there was improved buying interest for Kenya tea by exporters to Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran and Ireland. Other key and seasonal markets that recorded increased export volumes include USA, Sri Lanka and Qatar,” said the Tea Directorate in its statistical abstract published recently.

It added that following favourable weather conditions, there was an increase in the amount of tea produced last year, with total output growing 24.12 per cent to stand at 569.53 million kilos against 458.85 million kilos in 2019.

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Nearly all the tea produced in the country is exported, with local consumption last year standing at 40.34 million kilos, a slight drop from 40.47 million kilos in 2019.

The higher volumes of tea exported cushioned earnings for the industry, which also remained a key foreign exchange earner for the country after tourism was battered by Covid-19.

“Total export earnings from tea was Sh120 billion against Sh117 billion in 2019 and Sh140 billion in 2018. Higher earnings were attributed to increased export volume,” said the Tea Directorate.

Earnings declined in 2019 after the record Sh140 billion the industry earned in 2018, due to a decline in tea prices in the global market, as well as a decline in local production owing to poor weather.

The Tea Directorate indicated that higher volumes of tea were exported to different markets that consume Kenya tea. This was despite a drop in the average tea prices, which stood at $2.01 (Sh219) per kilo in 2020 compared to $2.20 (Sh240) in 2019 and $2.60 (Sh283) in 2018.

The price of tea at the auction is, however, affected by the amount of tea offered for sale, with higher quantities putting pressure on the prices.

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