There is a lot of hype around purple tea. There is talk that it has myriad health benefits and that it sells like hot cake and at a good price. One farmer has ‘tried and tasted’ it and shares his experience with Smart Harvest.
Three years ago, Robert Murimi dived into the uncertain field of purple tea farming. The retired teacher started planting green tea in 1971, on his three acre farm in Mathira Constituency, Nyeri County.
The 68-year-old is one of the few farmers who have embraced purple tea farming in the region.
“I started planting green tea in 1971. At the time, I was a teacher and my small pay could not meet my family’s needs. Tea came in handy to supplement my meagre income,” Murimi explains.
He says it took him 10 years to make good money from the crop.
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“It was a tough time, but in 1981 my dream came true and I was able to earn a good money from my tea which would later be my main source of income when I retired,” Murimi said.
For the last 27 years that he focused on green tea, Murimi says the time and effort is worth it.
He says tea farming has catapulted him from a peasant farmer to the top echelons of society.
“There was a time I could earn as much as Sh600,000 a year in tea bonuses when 1kg of green tea would fetch Sh40. I was very active in the management of Ragati Tea factory,” Murimi recalls.
However in 2013, Murimi was one of a selected group of farmers who attended a tea farmer’s field training session at the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya station in Kangaita, Kirinyaga County, where farmers were introduced to purple tea.
“It was an eye opening experience. The experts talked highly of purple tea, I was impressed. They spoke about the economic gains for the farmer and the many health benefits. After that talk I knew I wanted to be involved in purple tea,” Murimi says.
The government assured them that the purple tea would have a ready market and was in high demand due to its medicinal properties.
“However, they cautioned us that only those who would have high quality produce would benefit. I made a decision and never looked back.”
After the training, he immediately purchased 700 seedlings of purple tea from the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya station in Kangaita.
“I was determined to be one of the first farmers to plant purple tea,” Murimi says.
He took on the new project with enthusiasm. He spared no coin.
He cleared half of his farm and planted the seedlings and at some point in this new journey, he travelled to Imenti County where he learned of a new tea planting method.
“I am using a new planting system known as the 2by2by4ft, which essentially means between every two rows of tea, you leave four feet of space,” Murimi shares.
It’s been three years since he started his venture. So how has it been?
“My expectation was that after planting the purple tea, the government would ensure that the new product is marketed so that we earn least at Sh100 per kg. However, to date I have no place to sell my purple tea,” Murimi laments.
Murimi says he has only managed to sell his purple tea to a private firm owned by a Meru purple tea farmer.
Where is the market?
“The government should either buy our purple tea, or build more purple tea factories. Alternatively, the government should help existing tea factories to increase their capacity so that they can take in more produce from farmers,” Murimi advises.
With no market for his produce, Murimi faces financial ruin since only a quarter of his three acre piece of land has green tea.
Because the deal sounded so good, he even increased his purple tea bushes from a 700 to 15,000 trees.
A large portion of his farm is now covered in purple tea. But with no market for the produce, his patience is running out.
“I live by my principle that the greater the risk, the greater the reward. I still have faith that purple tea is the future,” Murimi says with optimism.
As a tea farmer known for his prowess in green tea farming, the new venture has made him stand out from his neighbours with his farm being the only one with purple tea bushes dotting the highlands.
Despite the gloom hanging over the crop, Murimi praises the purple tea variety because “it grows faster, is resistant to most diseases and requires little rainfall to be productive and it has numerous medicinal properties.”
“I boil the leaves and drink the tea, and my body feels rejuvenated and re-energised. It even tastes better than green tea,” Murimi says.
For Murimi, the future of purple tea seems uncertain but he is confident that he is still on the right path.
“My neighbours think that I made the biggest mistake. But I am not afraid of what my neighbours say about me. They may laugh at me now, but I know I will eventually reap rewards. Purple tea is the next big thing,” he says.