Vested interests have over the years killed many cash crops in the country. Today, it is difficult to put a finger on cotton or pyrethrum’s contribution to the economy, crops that many Kenyans can attest in the heyday enabled their parents put food on the table, a roof over their heads and saw them through school. These crops, which could earn the country billions and provide much-needed jobs, went down, largely because of mismanagement by industry players and government officials. In the process, the farmer has been exploited big time.
Currently, the tea industry is grappling with the issues that broke these other cash crops. In addition to weak regulatory practices and rogue players that have infiltrated the industry, high cost of production, poor land use among smallholder famers and high taxation are making the Kenyan produce uncompetitive in the international markets. Add to that the growing competition as well as factors beyond the industry’s control such as climate change, and farmers’ prospects are looking grim. But these should not make players give up. If anything, government and private sector players should roll up their sleeves and rescue the sector.
All stakeholders should embrace innovation, increase funding on research and diversify to include new and emerging tea varieties that could fetch premium prices. Tea exports earned the country Sh113 billion in 2019, while this may have dropped from Sh138 billion in 2018, it is still a significant amount. Still, millions of Kenyans depend on the sector for their livelihoods. We must do all that is possible to grow the tea sector.