The unique characteristics of Kenyan tea remain generally unmatched in many territories; rich in flavour, amber brown, an infusion that gels with milk and high in antioxidants. Tea remains one of the important cash crops that earn Kenya Sh131 billion in exports yearly. Tea is grown in 19 counties in the country.
According to a report by the Tea Board of Kenya, tea production stood at 538 million kilogrammes in 2021, out of which 285 million kilogrammes came from smallholder farmers and the balance of 253 million kilogrammes from tea plantations.
On October 5, 2022, while flagging off the first consignment of Kenyan tea destined for Accra Ghana under the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) trade initiative, President William Ruto directed the Ministry of Trade to work with stakeholders to develop a Kenyan tea brand in a bid to guarantee farmers of good returns.
Currently, only five per cent of exported Kenyan tea is value-added, which the president directed must grow to a minimum of 50 per cent in the next five years. Two years ago, during the push for reforms in the tea sector, some alliances in the sector went to court to challenge the clause in the Tea Act 2020 requiring that all producers must progressively add value to their tea products to at least 40 per cent in a span of five years from coming into operation of the Act.
For Kenya to increase income in agricultural products like tea, value addition during processing is a must. Producers will then be able to compete with the best products in other parts of the world. There is also need to improve the value gained in production and supply chain by branding Kenyan farm products.
Kenyan tea is known to have a quality and unique taste due to the agri-geo-climatic conditions as well as the know-how skills possessed by Kenyan tea farmers and processors. The tea (camellia sinesis) is made from the sinesis species plant whereas herbal teas are infusions made from plants that are not necessarily related to camellia sinesis.
Tea is the world’s most consumed beverage whose caffeine is known to have a stimulating effect on humans. Kenya dominates in the production of black tea. A small quantity of specialty green, yellow, white, and other flavours are mainly produced on order. The smallholder tea farmers produce the bulk of Kenya’s tea. Despite the huge earnings from tea, the farmers have not been able to benefit much.
Owing to an imbalanced value chain, other players become beneficiaries of the farmer’s hard work. It is for this reason that the government must adopt a different approach that will ensure tea business satisfies the small-scale farmer and producers and at the same time players in the marketing chain. In a bid to address the marketing challenges of agricultural products and the surety of farmers earning genuinely from their crops, the global world has adopted different strategies to determine the pricing of different agricultural products.
Some base it on production processes while others use the authenticity of the product as a basis for price discovery and payment. In Europe, there is a quality-based system required to be adopted by most small-scale producers. Given this global trend, the government and tea stakeholders will have to adopt the use of what is now popularly applied - the geographical indication (GI) quality marks if farmers are to benefit. This way, the Kenyan tea farmer will not only earn directly, but will also be protected from commercialisation of products that resemble the authentic Kenya tea product.
Our constitution guarantees the rights and protection of intellectual property, traditional and indigenous knowledge of biodiversity, and the genetic resources of the community. The technique of GI is a well-adopted process in developed countries used to protect the uniqueness of the product in terms of production, know-how, and origin.
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Kenya should enhance its knowledge of intellectual property rights among its businessmen and producers as far as the benefits, frameworks, and registration procedures are concerned in order to fully appreciate GIs. In Kenya, legal protection of products is provided by trademarks. However, this system does not protect or increase the value of the products in the market.
Kenya is a member of the World Trade Organisation and therefore a signatory of the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. These rights encompass copyright trademarks, geographical indications, industrial designs, patents as well as protection of undisclosed information. Kenya is however yet to accede to two other international GI agreements, the Madrid and Lisbon agreements, which also concern the protection of GIs.
This, therefore, means that the only option for the mutual protection of GIs with other countries in Europe would be through bilateral agreements. At the moment, tea products from Kenya are only registered as trademarks, with each tea factory or company naming their product with the desired name of their liking.
For Kenya to access the EU market with branded tea, the Kenyan government will have to initiate and sign an agreement with the European Commission or any other trading block which then will be used by KTDA to register the growers and use a quality mark of its own. Registration of Kenyan tea with a collective quality mark in the market will increase the competitiveness and uniqueness of the Kenyan brand, resulting in increased employment, and improved livelihoods, particularly for the growers.