Purple tea variety. Photo courtecy.
Farmers in tea growing regions in Kenya are embracing purple tea variety cultivation due to a number of reasons such as its health benefits to consumers, high international market value and drought resistance among other values as compared to the traditional green and black teas that have existed for over a century.
The farmers can earn over seven times per kilogram of purple tea in the international markets given it fetches Sh100 a kilogram against Sh14 per kilo of regular black and green tea varieties, according to the World Bank August 2017 reports.
Furthermore, Kenyan purple tea now sells in supermarkets in China, Japan, the United States, and Europe and it is projected to account for up to five per cent which is approximately Sh6.02bn of all Kenya’s tea exports in the next three to five years.
The latest to pick up on purple tea farming are more than 130 small scale green tea farmers from Chesumei in Nandi County by registering Chai Imara Purple Tea Limited company to capitalise on establishment of a Sh10m cottage industry of which upon completion, will be processing the purple tea leaves.
Purple tea is attracting consumers’ attention drawn across local and international markets following studies suggesting it has more health benefits than the green and black tea types.
Bethwel Ombuga, a Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) extension officer, said the high content of anthocyanidins and anthocyanins is causing prices to keep rising in export markets like Japan and USA.
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“We know this variety of tea by its dark reddish-purple leaves and floral-fruity flavor. Purple tea has been found to contain higher levels of antioxidants than are found in green and black teas,” said Ombuga.
“Consumption of this tea also suppresses absorption of fats by enhancing hepatic breakdown.”
In the KTDA’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.
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Removal of market barriers
Before, farmers and investors in purple tea farming were barred by competitor opposition from cultivating and selling the tea variety. They approached Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK), which worked closely with the World Bank Group’s Competition Policy team for a solution.
CAK worked with the tea industry to remove barriers to new market entrants while Bank Group team provided technical support to quantify the additional income farmers who switched to growing purple tea could earn.
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.
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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.
World Bank report
According to the World Bank report, Kenya is by far Africa’s largest tea producer, and the third largest globally.
About 40 per cent of Kenyan tea is grown on large plantations employing some 100,000 workers; the rest comes from small-scale farmers, some 560,000 of them. An estimated 3 million Kenyan families rely on tea for their livelihoods.