Smallholder tea farmers need to constantly innovate to remain relevant in a competitive market. New marketing options need to be explored to cushion smallholder farmers from market price levels and volatility, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). Even with the surge in tea demand during the Covid-19 lockdowns, international prices, have been declining for the past four decades, according to FAO.
“Actions are required to tackle some of the issues impacting smallholders, who account for 60 per cent of global tea production,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu during the recent International Tea Day.
According to Dr Dongyu, smallholder farmers need to increase the value of their tea products through standards, specialty teas, product innovation and generic promotion. The tea sector must demonstrate its value to command higher prices. Tea cultivation is attractive to smallholders in many low-income countries because it creates jobs and income throughout the year and requires relatively little investment, while the risk of crop failure is generally small.
However, the issues impacting smallholders include low farm gate prices, poor extension services, limited market channels, and poor access to credit and technology. There is a pressing need to strengthen the smallholders’ business ecosystems.
In Kenya, the smallholder tea producers account for 56 per cent of the national production. It supports at least 620,000 smallholder farmers across the country with over 6.5 million Kenyans directly or indirectly benefitting. Researchers have recently warned that low producer prices may force smallholders to abandon tea production for other lucrative enterprises.
There is need for smallholder producers to reengineer their processes to cut down on operational inefficiencies and wastage, according to Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.