Investing in a More Sustainable Future

Global tea trade has over the last two decades taken a beating from multiple sources including oversupply, market weaknesses and climate change.

KTDA-affiliated farmers have felt the effects of these blows mainly in terms of reduced revenues. The Agency has on its part accelerated programs meant to shield the grower from the worst of these blows, improve their welfare and make tea farming a sustainable venture in the coming decades.

Highlighted here, are a few of the initiatives being undertaken to achieve this;

Fuel wood

Factories on average spend 3-5 per cent of their total revenue on fuel wood each year. This is a substantial amount that has since been identified as an opportunity to cut operational costs and boost farmer revenues. Each of the KTDA-managed factories is now working towards establishing wood fuel plantations that will provide a sustainable source of firewood for boilers.

Factories have cumulatively acquired 41,560 acres so far with 14,882 planted with fast-maturing trees. Several early adopters of the program have started utilizing their own wood fuel after maturity of their plantations. The wood fuel plan is seen as a medium to long-term investment which will eventually see all managed factories become self-sufficient in wood fuel supply.

Planting of the trees is meant to provide a sustainable and inexpensive source of wood fuel as well as manage climate change by ensuring constant re-planting/ regeneration of cleared areas. About 700 trees are planted per acre, 75% of which are eucalyptus with the remaining share being indigenous trees such as bamboo. Factories are required to plant one hectare of fuel wood for every four hectares of tea.

Farmer Field School

Farmer Field School (FFS) is a series of classes that last a year covering best farm practices (land preparation, planting, tea plucking, pruning, weed control, fertilizer etc) economic diversification (rabbit and poultry rearing, dairy and goat farming, fruit farming, bee keeping, kitchen gardens etc) as well as record keeping and financial management.

The classes, funded by KTDA and different partners, are a major commitment towards equipping farmers with necessary information to vastly improve their livelihoods, protect and nurture the environment and create a sustainable tea value chain. There are currently over 400 classes ongoing across the 69 KTDA-managed factories.

Small hydro-power stations (SHPs)

Besides fuel wood, electricity is the other major source of energy in factories consuming 3-5 per cent of factory revenues. Factories from same tea zones have set up Regional Power Companies (RPCs) to invest in small hydro-power (SHPs) projects that deliver more stable electricity to them and are expected to deliver lower power costs in the medium term. Excess power is sold to the grid earning the farmers some extra money.

The reduction in cost and improvement in the quality of power is a key feature going forward that will make tea factories’ production more sustainable and less susceptible to fluctuating electricity prices. Four SHPs are already operational with another 10 currently in different implementation phases. The Agency is also exploring solar energy viability in running factory operations.

Diversification to orthodox teas

Over the last several decades, production and marketing of Black CTC has provided a stable and predictable income source. However, global oversupply and sharp swings in prices have created some uncertainty which has seen KTDA-managed factories increasingly venture into orthodox teas in the last decade.

Orthodox teas are whole leaf teas processed using a delicate method of gradually rolling and drying green leaf into smaller sizes of different twists and styles. This is unlike Black CTC tea where the leaf is cut into fine granules by a set of rollers.

There is a broad range of orthodox teas including Black Orthodox, Green tea, Purple tea, Green CTC, Oolong, Premium White tea and White tea. Kenyan-made orthodox teas are mainly sold in Iran, Germany, Russia and Dubai.

A total of 12 factories are currently setting up and processing orthodox teas in what is seen as a strategic move to reduce over-reliance on Black CTC and cushion farmer revenues when prices dip.

Energy efficiency initiatives

The amount of energy used to produce one kilo of tea is a pointer to the efficiency with which a factory manages its machines and systems. The Agency as well as its managed factories are constantly undertaking reviews to maximize energy efficiency which translates to lower energy costs and more money in farmers’ pockets.

Factories have been employing a mix of initiatives including regular energy audits and replacement of standard machine parts (like withering fans and motors) with high efficiency ones to bring down the energy consumption.The factories are also insulating their steam systems to prevent heat loss and save on the amount of wood fuel used.

Other initiatives include the installation of LED lights which consume less power, training production staff on energy efficiency and installation of air pre-heaters in boilers which helps cut wood fuel consumption by about five per cent. This has yielded good results with energy used to make one kilo of tea for example dropping by 15 percent between 2013 and 2017.