Climate change storm threatens tea production in Kenya
Kenya’s tea production is likely to drop significantly over the next decade due to climate change, threatening the country’s foreign earnings from the harvest.
Rhoda Ruto, a senior researcher at the Tea Research Institute (TRI) of the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), believes that tea production will be affected by the increase in rainfall and temperatures due to global warming.
“Much of the effects of climate change on crops will be felt in the tea sector in Kenya, as a temperature increase above 23.5 degrees Celsius would significantly reduce cash crop yields.
His claims indicate that climate change has the potential to significantly affect the livelihoods of small-scale farmers, as many depend on the crop for their income.
Extremely low temperatures also affect tea production with frosts, reducing yield per bush.
She noted, however, that climate change will improve the suitability of tea production in areas where the crop is not grown today, particularly the high altitudes around Mount Kenya.
“However, many of these areas are protected and it is not advisable to clear the forests to grow tea, as was done with Nyayo tea areas in the 1980s.”
Ruto said growers in major growing areas, particularly in Bomet, Kisii and Nyamira, will need to adapt their farm management techniques to the new conditions.
“Growers here will need to carefully analyze the implications and implement adaptation and diversification strategies. Climate change not only brings bad news, but also opens up new opportunities. The producers who stay in business will be those who are prepared for change and have the knowledge to adapt,” she added.
The scientist was presenting at a workshop for science and environmental journalists on policy, legislation, market trends and environmental issues that impact the tea sub-sector. The seminar held in Kericho was organized by the Kenya Environmental and Science Journalists Association (KENSJA) and Solidaridad-a civil society group (SCSG) that lobbies for a sustainable supply chain in the tea sub-sector.
According to a report compiled by scientists at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), land under tea cultivation will shrink by 42% by 2050, creating excess capacity in tea factories dependent on catchments.
Areas west of the Rift Valley, particularly Nandi, Kericho and Gucha, will be most affected according to the study titled Future Climate Scenarios for Kenya’s Tea Growing Areas by Dr Peter Laderach, Dr Audberto Quiroga, Dr Jason Gordon and Dr. Anton Eitzinger.
Ruto noted that there is a need to increase the resilience of Kenyan tea farmers to climate change, secure their livelihoods and make them more environmentally and economically sustainable.
“We are now focusing on training our tea farmers on the most appropriate adaptation techniques and alternative strategies, including the development of drought-tolerant tea varieties. What is important is to increase the adoption of adaptation strategies developed to bridge the gap between research and actual agricultural production.
She told the 20 participants who included journalists from mainstream media, online publications from vernacular radio stations and community radio stations that research focused on climate change mitigation and opportunities such as carbon credits should be given priority.
KENSJA Chairman Duncan Mboya noted that Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya’s decision to introduce new tea regulations, while noble, requires effort from government, industry industry and civic education groups to sensitize tea producers on their implementation.
He observed that due to lack of sufficient information, most farmers were unaware of the motives behind their introduction, adding that a lot of time and emotions were spent challenging the Minister’s decision, the end result being an opposition to what is essentially rational action.
In new reforms, the government has set the minimum price for all teas owned by the Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA) at $2.43 (Ksh 275) per kilogram to reverse the downward trend in product prices. .
KTDA teas represent more than 60% of the total beverages offered at the auction and the minimum price would impact all other teas sold through this trading platform.
Under the new law, all teas must be sold through the Mombasa auction.
The Mombasa auction also markets KTDA teas and those of multinational corporations. It also sells tea from 12 African countries.
Before the minimum price was set, the drink’s price per kilo had fallen to a low of $1.69 (Ksh 191), the lowest in a decade. However, with the introduction of the reserve price, prices peaked at $2.59 (293 Ksh) before closing the year at $2.39 (271 Ksh).
According to the Tea Directorate, although prices rose and fell during the auction, they did not fall below $2 (226 Ksh) during the weekly sales.
Mr. Mboya observed that legal actions by various individuals and parties opposed to the new tea regulations are slowing down the full implementation of reforms in the industry.
The President added: “To avoid such a scenario, it is important that the process of implementing new public policies is accompanied by vigorous sensitization of the main actors. Farmers, traders, consumers and the general public must participate in this discussion. »
Mr. Mboya indicated that the Constitution stresses the importance of public participation and said that for such participation to be meaningful, it must be based on access to information.
“This is the task that the process of implementing further tea reforms must urgently prioritize. If we don’t enlighten those in the tea sub-sector on the benefits of these regulations, there is a good chance that what is essentially good public policy will encounter public opposition due to insufficient knowledge” , warned the president.
Anne Njuguna, project officer at Solidaridad, noted that while women are overwhelmingly represented in tea production and the supply chain, the same cannot be said for their gains in the sector in general.
She said a myriad of barriers, including limited access to resources such as land, credit, inputs, information and training, reinforce historical patterns of women’s disempowerment.
“In the tea sub-sector, women continue to provide much of the agricultural labor needed only for the profits to end up in the hands of their spouses who make the decisions on the use of household income. This leaves many women dependent on their spouses,” Ms Njuguna said.
The program manager added that with the right mindset and attitude, the inclusion and empowerment of women is achievable even in environments where cultural stereotypes and gender norms are rampant.
She, however, expressed optimism that incremental improvements continue to be seen in the agricultural sector, with farmers and agribusiness owners paving the way for building a diverse, equitable, inclusive, more rewarding and fulfilling for women agricultural workers.
“However, many more women remain on the sidelines. Much remains to be done to achieve true gender equality. As we highlight persistent challenges and at the same time celebrate progress in advancing gender inclusion, we must do so with a renewed commitment to addressing the gender gap, empowering women to claim and succeed. on their own terms,” Ms Njuguna said.
In the reforms that the Ministry of Agriculture introduced to rationalize the sector which has seen a lot of cartels over the years, the ministry also decided to reduce the role of KTDA in the tea export trade.
The agency, through its subsidiary Chai Trading Limited Company, sells some of its tea directly to international buyers at an agreed price. However, in a new directive, the ministry banned direct overseas sales.
“All teas processed and produced in Kenya for the export market, except for orthodox and specialty teas, will be offered for sale exclusively at tea auctions,” says part of the Tea Act 2020 .
“All tea factory limited liability companies must register with the (Tea Board of Kenya) and the auction organizer to participate in the tea auction directly and not through the intermediary of managing agents.”
Some multinational companies have gone to court to oppose the new regulations, arguing that selling tea directly to foreign customers by contract gives them financial flexibility.
The ministry also capped the management fee the KTDA levies on farmer-owned factories at 2% from 2.5% previously, with the directive taking effect last November.
In what gave farmers a boost, the government ordered KTDA to pay farmers 50% of the total value of the green leaf they delivered to factories, with the rest, normally called bonus, to be paid during the exercise. .
The agency only paid the farmers a fraction of what they delivered to the factory as a monthly payment, with most of it handed over at the end of the fiscal year.