News and knowhow for farmers

Automated tea picking machine helps farmers halve production costs & improve quality

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By George Munene

Mo­bile Edge, an El­doret based Ag­ritech firm has in­tro­duced a new port­able tea pick­ing ma­chine, M-Chai, into the Kenyan mar­ket that prom­ises to be a game-changer for Kenyan tea farm­ers, en­abling them to save on half their pro­duc­tion costs, time ex­pense, as well as im­prov­ing the qual­ity of tea they pick.

The prof­it­ab­il­ity of tea farm­ing is greatly hampered by the ex­pense in tea pick­ing labor which ranges between Sh10-13 for every kilo­gram of tea picked. At a one-off cost of Sh35,000 (vat ex­clus­ive), M-Chai picks tea six times faster than human pluck­ing— the ma­chine picks on av­er­age 200-240kg in eight hours, the av­er­age length of time it takes tea pick­ers to at­tain 40 kilo­grams.

“In tri­als run by Mo­bile Edge and tea pro­cessing factor­ies prior to its rol­lout, the M-Chai-300 model at­tained 75-86 per­cent leaf qual­ity com­pared to the ac­cep­ted 65-70 per cent in­dustry stand­ard,” says Eng. Ben Lang, MD, Mo­bile Edge. Leaf qual­ity is a major stick­ing point for farm­ers and tea man­u­fac­tur­ers with tea often dumped for not meet­ing the set pluck­ing stand­ard. It also main­tains a low pluck­ing height en­sur­ing an even pluck­ing table.

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The com­pany has partnered with KTDA to make the gad­get ac­cess­ible to both small and large-scale tea farm­ers, is work­ing with mul­tina­tion­als such as Fin­lays, Uniliver, East­ern Pro­duce tea es­tates and mem­bers of the Kenya Tea Grow­ers As­so­ci­ation (KTGA).

M-Chai is an in­tu­it­ive single user device weigh­ing 1.5kg that con­sists of a har­vester and a re­chargeable eight-hour lith­ium bat­tery pack. The har­vester is wa­ter­proof and air-cooled with a brush­less motor and a two-piece self-sharpen­ing 300mm ho­ri­zontal blade. This is at­tached to a re­cept­acle tray to re­ceive the cut tea.

Ac­cord­ing to Lang, sales within the coun­try have come largely from the coun­try’s tea belt, with faster and more con­sist­ent ad­op­tion within the West­ern Kenya High­lands. The com­pany has thus far sold over 3000 units in Kenya, Tan­zania, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

The ma­chine re­quires basic main­ten­ance prac­tices such as clean­ing and oil­ing after use as well as greas­ing it every so often. The bat­tery also needs to be fully re­charged after use. The ma­chine comes with a one year war­ranty and the com­pany provides main­ten­ance, spares and ser­vice sup­port to farm­ers in tea grow­ing re­gions.

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Mo­bile Edge also de­vel­ops bat­tery op­er­ated knap­sack spray­ers, small nurs­ery seed ap­plic­at­ors, amongst other small ag­ri­cul­tural equip­ment.

Mo­bile Edge M-Chai: 254729531431, 020-2721195

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