How Kenya can maximise value in tea industry

Kenyan tea must leverage globally its unique, flavour-rich quality. [File, Standard]

The tea industry is an essential cornerstone of Kenya’s economy, creating jobs, supporting millions of livelihoods and generating substantial foreign exchange.

The potential for further value generation through sustainable practices is immense and must be seized. Globally, consumers appreciate quality tea sustainably grown and produced, often willing to pay a higher price. Such an opportunity must be harnessed to maximise the value derived from tea, thereby benefiting farmers, communities, and the national economy.

Kenyan tea must leverage globally its unique, flavour-rich quality. Moreover, by showcasing initiatives that emphasize sustainability and strict social standards, Kenya can appeal to tea connoisseurs worldwide, establishing itself as a global model for high-quality tea production that upholds stringent social and environmental standards.

However, the path towards maximising value from our tea must start with urgent measures to tackle climate change effects. Climate crisis-induced erratic weather, causing droughts, hailstorms, and poor rainfall seasons, is already affecting key tea-growing zones such as Kericho County.

For tea industry to continue being our economy’s growth engine, sustainability measures are crucial. The industry must transition to sustainable practices, striving to achieve net-zero emissions in the long term. This change is essential not only on the farm, but also in processing, where increasing the efficiency of wood fuel utilisation and transitioning to renewable energy sources is imperative. Furthermore, embracing organic farming in tea cultivation will considerably lessen our dependence on fertilisers.

To weather the climate crisis, research must develop drought-resistant tea varieties. This will safeguard livelihoods of smallholder farmers and benefit the economy.

LIPTON Teas and Infusions as the biggest tea buyer in the world is spearheading industry-wide improvements, enhancing value throughout the entire supply chain, from suppliers to consumers. This initiative includes our commitment to clean energy usage, sustainable forestry practices, water catchment conservation, and research into climate-resilient clonal teas. We’re also investing heavily in our local communities.

On our estates, we implement precision agriculture techniques, and have completely eschewed the use of synthetic pesticides. Remarkably, 98 per cent of our operations in Kenya are powered by renewable energy. Moreover, we operate one of the world’s largest organic certified tea gardens. An aggressive tree-planting initiative is in place, and we’re working closely with local communities to foster environmental stewardship.

By 2025, we aim to make all our packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable. As part of the wider industry, it’s crucial we collectively scale up such initiatives. This will ensure tea bushes thrive, and that tea enthusiasts enjoy their beverage sustainably.

With these measures in place, we’re confident that tea-time will endure, meeting demands of current and future generations one cup of tea at a time.

-The writer is the Country General Manager, Ekaterra Tea Kenya