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What are Tea Producers in Kenya Doing to Cope up With the Price Rise? Find it Out Here

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Kenya Agriculture
Tea is a staple drink in Kenya, though, unlike other major producing countries, it consumes far less than it exports. Pixabay

In a humming factory in Kenya’s highlands, tea is hand-plucked from the fields, cured and shredded into the fine leaves that have sated drinkers from London to Lahore for generations.

But Kenya’s prized black tea isn’t fetching the prices it once did, forcing the top supplier of the world’s most popular drink to try something new.

In the bucolic hills around Nyeri, factory workers are experimenting with a range of boutique teas, deviating from decades of tradition in the quest for new customers and a buffer against unstable prices.

Like the bulk of Kenya’s producers, they’ve been manufacturing one way for decades – the crush, tear and curl (CTC) method, turning out ultra-fine leaves well suited for teabags the world over.

Now however, between conveyor belts whizzing tons of Kenya’s mainstay CTC into heaving sacks, huge rollers also gently and slowly massage green leaves under the watchful eye of workers, all freshly trained in the art of what is known as orthodox tea production.

The end result – a whole leaf, slow-processed variety, savored for its complex tones and appearance – is still being perfected at Gitugi, a factory in the foothills of the Aberdare Range that has been trialing these teas since June.

It has been costly shifting into orthodox, and a cultural change for workers and farmers, said Antony Naftali, operations manager at Gitugi, in Nyeri some 85 kilometers (52 miles) north of Nairobi.

But the risk was necessary: prices for stalwart CTC at auction nosedived 21 percent in 2018-2019 compared to the prior financial year, underscoring the urgency to diversify and extract more from every tea bush.

KENYA AGRICULTURE-TEA
A farm worker harvests tea leaves using shears at a plantation in Kenya’s Kericho highlands, Kericho county, in Kenya. VOA

“We have relied for so many years on traditional CTC. But the price has dropped. We want to reduce the pressure… but also, to explore this new market,” Naftali told AFP.

Market turmoil

Even since prices have recovered somewhat, any fluctuations are still keenly felt in Kenya, the world’s biggest exporter of CTC.

Tea is a staple drink in Kenya, though, unlike other major producing countries, it consumes far less than it exports.

The humble cuppa is a pillar of the economy: one in 10 Kenyans depends on the tea industry, according to the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), which represents 650,000 smallholder farmers by selling and marketing their tea.

The poor returns this year sparked angry protests on estates, and tea companies registered losses.

Part of the problem is oversupply.

Higher prices in recent years spurred investment in tea planting, resulting in Kenya’s best-ever haul in 2018 – at 493 million kilos (1,086 pounds).

But Kenya also has long relied on too few buyers, shipping 70 percent of its tea to just four markets.

Its top three customers – Pakistan, Egypt and Britain – have all seen a weakening of their currencies in recent times, making tea imports pricey.

Other big buyers – Iran, Sudan and Yemen, chief among them – have struggled to make payments.

“Our key markets are in turmoil,” Lerionka Tiampati, KTDA chief executive, told AFP.

“When you cannot control the price, then there’s not very much you can do. But what we are doing is we are trying to diversify the product.”

Reading the leaves

Orthodox production opens doors to markets where whole leaf, bespoke teas and custom infusions are rewarded with higher prices, says Grace Mogambi, KTDA’s manager of specialty products, who has travelled the globe to learn what drinkers want.

Kenya Tea
The prized black tea in Kenya isn’t fetching the prices it once did, forcing the top supplier of the world’s most popular drink to try something new. (Representational Image). Pixabay

Studying samples in Gitugi’s cupping room, Mogambi reels off the qualities desired by discerning tea drinkers: Russians like whole leaves, Germans prize tips, Saudis demand jet black and Sri Lankans dislike stalks.

“Consumer taste preferences are changing. Drinkers are becoming more aware of the type of tea they prefer,” said Mogambi, clad in a white laboratory coat, before swirling a mouthful of tea and ejecting it into a spittoon.

“If I’m spending more money on a cup of tea, I prefer given characteristics to be present.”

But orthodox and specialty lines represent only a tiny fraction of Kenya’s exports, and critics say the KTDA – which accounts for 60 percent of the country’s tea production — has been slow to adapt.

The board decided in 2000 to launch an orthodox range but, by the end of 2019, just 11 of its 69 factories were expected to be producing teas other than CTC.

Some like Kangaita, a factory at the southern flank of Mount Kenya, have been cultivating purple teas – a rare specialty unique to the region.

Other craft varieties include white premium, a loose leaf packaged in deluxe pyramidal teabags.

These appeal also to younger tea drinkers, a growing market demanding something other than run-of-the-mill black tea.

“Youthful tea drinkers are definitely looking for wellness, and other health benefits in tea,” said Gideon Mugo, chairman of the East African Tea Trade Association.

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Major brands outside the KTDA have been targeting the youth segment.

Kericho Gold produces a line of “attitude teas” packaged in bright boxes, including one for “love” and another marketed as a hangover cure. (VOA)

Next Story

1 in 3 People in Venezuela Face Hunger: U.N. Report

UN Study: 1 of every 3 Venezuelans are struggling to get their food

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Hunger venezuela
One of every three people in Venezuela is struggling to put enough food on the table and is facinf hunger. Lifetime Stock

One of every three people in Venezuela is struggling to put enough food on the table to meet minimum nutrition requirements as the nation’s severe economic contraction and political upheaval persists and face hunger, according to a study published Sunday by the U.N. World Food Program.

A nationwide survey based on data from 8,375 questionnaires reveals a startling picture of the large number of Venezuelans surviving off a diet consisting largely of tubers and beans as hyperinflation renders many salaries worthless.

A total of 9.3 million people – roughly one-third of the population – are moderately or severely food insecure and face hunger, said the World Food Program’s study, which was conducted at the invitation of the Venezuelan government. Food insecurity is defined as an individual being unable to meet basic dietary needs.

The study describes food insecurity as a nationwide concern, though certain states like Delta Amacuro, Amazonas and Falcon had especially high levels. Even in more prosperous regions, one in five people are estimated to be food insecure.

Hunger venezuela
The increasing food insecurity and hunger issues are increasing due to rising price of crops. Wikimedia Commons

“The reality of this report shows the gravity of the social, economic and political crisis in our country,” said Miguel Pizarro, a Venezuelan opposition leader.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has been largely reluctant in recent years to invite international organizations to provide assessments of the nation’s humanitarian ordeal, though the World Food Program said it was granted “full independence” and collected data throughout the country “without any impediment or obstruction.”

“WFP looks forward to a continuation of its dialogue with the Venezuelan government and discussions that will focus on the way forward to provide assistance for those who are food insecure,” the agency said in a statement.

There was no immediate response to the findings by Maduro’s government.

The survey found that 74% of families have adopted “food-related coping strategies,” such as reducing the variety and quality of food they eat. Sixty percent of households reported cutting portion sizes in meals, 33% said they had accepted food as payment for work and 20% reported selling family assets to cover basic needs.

The issue appears to be one that is less about the availability of food and more about the difficulty in obtaining it. Seven in 10 reported that food could always be found but said it is difficult to purchase because of high prices. Thirty-seven percent reported they had lost their job or business as a result of Venezuela’s severe economic contraction.

Venezuela has been in the throes of a political and humanitarian crisis that has led over 4.5 million people to flee in recent years. Maduro has managed to keep his grip on power despite a push by opposition leader Juan Guaidó to remove him from office and mounting U.S. sanctions.

Maduro frequently blames the Trump administration for his nation’s woes, and his government has urged the International Criminal Court to open an investigation, alleging that the financial sanctions are causing suffering and even death. The nation’s struggles to feed citizens and provide adequate medical care predate U.S. sanctions on the Venezuelan government.

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Dugleidi Salcedo complains to a neighbor about the high price of food as she prepares arepas for her three sons in her kitchen in the Petare slum, in Caracas, Venezuela. VOA

In addition to food, the survey also looked at interruptions in access to electricity and water, finding that four in 10 households experience daily power cuts. Four in 10 also reported recurrent interruptions in water service, further complicating daily life.

Noting that the survey was done in July through September, Carolina Fernández, a Venezuelan rights advocate who works with vulnerable women, said she believes the situation has deteriorated even more. While it was once possible for many families to survive off remittances sent by relatives abroad, she said, that has become more difficult as much of the economy is dollarized and prices rise.

“Now it’s not enough to have one person living abroad,” she said.

Fernández said food insecurity is likely to have an enduring impact on a generation of young Venezuelans going hungry during formative years.

“We’re talking about children who are going to have long-term problems because they’re not eating adequately,” she said.

Those who are going hungry include people like Yonni Gutiérrez, 56, who was standing outside a restaurant that sells roasted chickens in Caracas on Sunday.

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The unemployed man approached the restaurant’s front door whenever a customer left with a bag of food, hoping they might share something. He said he previously had been able to scrape by helping unload trucks at a market, but the business that employed him closed.

“Sometimes, with a little luck, I get something good,” he said of his restaurant stakeout. (VOA)