Small-scale farmers can now earn up to ten times more by growing purple tea variety, which is attracting international market attention following studies suggesting it has more health benefits than the green type.
Bethwel Ombuga, a Kenya Tea Development Agency extension officer, said the high content of anthocyanidins and anthocyanins is causing prices to keep rising in export markets like Japan and USA.
In the Japan market for instance, one kilo of purple tea fetches Sh3,000 as opposed to the green variety which earns between Sh270 and Sh300.
“Purple tea is more tolerant to drought than the traditional green varieties. Even with a little rain, farmers can still harvest something. It is also tolerant to diseases like amilaria,” he said.
In encouraging farmer to grow the tea, KTDA is building processing factories various regions.
In the agency’s demonstration plot in the Kakamega Moi Show Ground, only two stems dried out of 24 planted in April 2015.
However, six out of 24 stems of ordinary tea planted in the same year dried up it matures in three to four years.
About 60 per cent of Kenyan tea farmers are small-scale growers. Almost all of them are growing green variety, five years after the government allowed for growing of TRFK 306 purple tea.
Purple tea health benefits
According to the US National Institute of Health, purple tea has over 100 times more anthocyanidins and anthocyanins than ordinary tea. The chemicals are said to inhibit multiplication of colorectal carcinoma cells, which are linked to colon cancer.
Consumption of this tea also suppresses absorption of fats by enhancing hepatic breakdown.
The American Journal of Plant Science says catechins in tea seed oil is a good antioxidants.
Whilst the green tea can produce one to one and half kilos of leaves in a year, purple tea can yield two to two and half kilos over the same period, Ombuga said.
“Ordinary tea prices are falling and falling because more countries are entering the production ring. On the other hand, purple tea price is rising and rising. For tea to make agribusiness sense, farmers must adopt the purple tea or they will be competitively faced out,” he said said.
The tea is available in various nurseries centres like Kericho Tea Research Institute at Sh10 per stem. More other growing dealers are propagating the tea variety.
At a spacing of 2.5 feet by 4feet, a farmer will have a total of 4356 stems of TRFK 306 in an acre.