Researchers are decrying the low uptake of the superior purple tea among farmers despite its high yields and better pricing three years after it was released into the market.
In the South Rift, for example, the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya (TRFK) estimates that only a mere one per cent of the farmers have started growing the crop that fetches up to Sh100 a kilogramme compared to the Sh20 the normal variety attracts.
TRFK 306, a favourite breed in the market, which was approved by the National Variety Release Committee in 2011 and has a wide range of benefits, is experiencing a slow uptake with roughly two or less people in each county ward cultivating the variety on their farms. Awareness of the crop among farmers stands at 30 per cent, says the foundation.
According to TRFK managing director Eliud Kireger, the worrying trend has been occasioned by poor marketing of te purple tea to farmers by entrepreneurs and tea processing plants. “Planting, management and period of time taken to mature for the green and purple tea are equal,” he said. “Processing of the two clones take same procedures, but the purple variety is superior in that it is disease resistant and with an alternative high quality due to best tea seed oil and medicinal purposes.”
Dr Kireger added that farmers did not have adequate information on the tea variety to embrace it. Victor Langat, a tea extension service specialist in the region, established that slow uptake was also due to a lack of cuttings and seedlings of the variety with TRFK being the only known supplier.
Dr Langat expressed concerns that farmers had failed to tap the purple tea variety to boost their earnings from the world markets, particularly Europe and China, where it is on high demand. However, Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA) regional manager for Kericho, Bomet and Nakuru counties G.K Godana differed with the experts on the popularity of the tea variety abroad.
“We are cautious not to promise farmers high pay for purple tea whereas there are uncertain market opportunities. If they we fail to pay them Sh100 per kilogramme as they are expecting they may end up losing trust in our business,” he said.
Mr Godana also denied claims that the agency favours farmers in central Kenya in production of the purple tea. The official said that through KTDA, Litein Factory had supplied cuttings and seedlings of the purple tea to farmers in South Rift for planting.
Chesumot farm manager Kim Martin said they expect to gain from their investment in the crop once interested companies like DL-Koisagat begin buying purple tea from farmers. The farm has cultivated 80 acres of the tea variety.
Mr Martins said that the purple tea is the future of the tea industry as consumers become health-conscious.