Small-scale tea farming in Kenya accounts for about 65 per cent of the total tea production in the country with the rest being produced by multinationals.
Over the years, Kenya’s tea sector continues to be a major foreign exchange earner for the nation as well as a catalyst for the growth of rural economies.
The tea subsector has a history of excellence but more importantly, with tea reforms taking root and the political goodwill of the government, smallholder farmers are in for higher market dividends.
Kenya is the third leading producer of tea and the biggest exporter accounting for about 28 per cent of the world's tea exports.
As we entrench the tea reforms mostly targeting the small-scale tea farmers, it is important to note that this sector is one of the key drivers of Kenya’s socio-economic development and a key pillar for economic growth providing a source of livelihood directly to over 750,000 farmers, 90 per cent of whom are smallholder tea growers. There are many reforms aimed at improving farmers’ returns that have also been introduced by the Tea Act, 2020.
Over time smallholder tea farmers have been incurring costs unnecessarily and have been affected by price fluctuations and governance issues bringing efficiency in most of the value chain almost to a halt.
Even as the tea reforms take shape, we have noted key successes critical to the future of the tea sector. Farmers are getting better returns and early payments and have a big voice in electing their leaders. This is critical in avoiding farmer exploitation and a big blow to the cartels and middlemen.
This year alone, the tea revenue has grown by 3.5 per cent courtesy of these reforms.
It is worth noting that the decision by the smallholder tea factories to fix a minimum reserve in July 2021 to stem the declining tea prices from an all-time low of $1.89 (Sh233.2) per kg has resulted in improved prices up to an average of $2.64 (Sh325.8) in October 2022.
Another key milestone has been the fertiliser to the smallholder tea growers under the Kenya-Kwanza Government-fertiliser subsidy programme.
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This will ease the burden of the farmers in a great way and be a key catalyst to the entire agricultural reforms for increased productivity of all the sectors.
-Mr Wilson Muthaura is the CEO of the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA)