NAIROBI, Kenya Dec 1- The Ministry of Agriculture has called for further research in tea production to boost yields especially among small scale farmers.
Agriculture Minister William Ruto said with 90 percent of tea growers in Kenya cultivating on an acre or less, emphasis had to be placed in developing new varieties of tea that would be able to produce greater yields on small parcels of land.
Mr Ruto told a media briefing in his office on Tuesday that this would go a long way in enhancing the competitiveness of Kenyan tea, which has suffered greatly this year owing to increased competition from other tea growing countries.
“It is significant that a lot of support especially in research is undertaken so that we can use our small holder farmers to get high yields,” Mr Ruto said.
The minister pointed out that it would be difficult for the government to increase the land under tea owing to increased competition from food crops and other land uses.
“We are unable to bring additional land for tea production because people have other interests for their land which are not tea oriented,” he said.
The tea sub sector continues to play a major role in the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2008, the country exported 325,533 tones of tea, earning over Sh62 billion.
“This represents 26 percent of the total export earnings and about 4 percent of GDP,” Mr Ruto stressed.
In the latest tea production results for the month of October, the smallholder sub-sector recorded a production output of 17.2 million kilograms, which was a drop from 20.8 million kilograms last year.
During the same period, production within the plantation sub-sector rose to 15.5 million kilograms from 14.4.million kilograms.
Cumulative tea production for the period between January and October stood at 242.2 million kilograms with predictions that production would fall in 2009.
He was speaking during the inauguration of the new board members of the Tea Research Foundation at his Kilimo House where Sammy Chepkwony was appointed Chairman. Dr Francis Wachira was appointed as Director of Research as well as Chief executive of the institution.
Mr Ruto challenged the new board to enhance technology use in the tea sub sector in an effort of bringing down the cost of production which he said had widely made tea farming unattractive.
He highlighted the cost of labour, fertilisers, electricity and furnace oil added to farmers’ woes, as they are unable to make substantial returns on their inputs.
“Currently the average cost of production is pegged at Sh115 per kg against an average auction price of Sh164 per kg which not all that encouraging to the small scale farmer,” he said.
He further called for the development of superior tea clones that would be able to adapt in various agro-climatic areas ensuring the country had a steady supply of tea not affected by changes in climatic conditions.