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Board plans national tea survey

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 3 – The Tea Board of Kenya plans to carry out a national tea census through which it hopes to collect vital statistics that can help in better planning of the industry.

The census, which will be undertaken this financial year, will entail a tea bushes count as well as mapping the acreage under tea, in an exercise that Tea Board of Kenya Managing Director Sicily Kariuki disclosed will cost at least Sh150 million.

“We are currently trying to look at what may have changed in the sector in climate terms; what may have changed in productivity terms and that will set the pace for us to do the census,” she explained while referring to the ongoing review of the ‘brown line.’

This line refers to the areas within which tea does well with minimal environmental stress and was first demarcated over 50 years ago but is thought to have migrated following the effects of climate change.

Since 2005, tea production has been fluctuating between 310 million kilograms and 390 million kilos per year largely due to adverse weather patterns.

Despite the volatility in the production however, it is estimated that the area under tea has been on the rise in the last 10 years.

Kariuki said acreage under tea has increased by an estimated 10,000 hectares (ha) in the last one decade to the current 180,000 ha. This is despite the uprooting of some tea bushes that was reported in some parts of Central and Western Kenya three years ago.

The Tea Board which has in the past vehemently denied the ‘uprooting’ claims believes that the opposite is actually happening with more farmers planting more bushes so as to benefit from the good tea prices in the international market.

The crop has been fetching good prices over the years with 2010 touted as the best year in the industry with export earnings topping Sh97 billion.

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The board is confident that this performance will be replicated in the 2011 statistics with revenues expected to hit over Sh100 billion, placing the sub-sector as the country’s top foreign exchange earner.

A weak exchange rate and increased international demand during the year are some of the factors that Kariuki pointed out could have contributed to the impressive performance.

But even with good tidings, the sector still faces key challenges that could affect its performance going forward. Limited budgetary allocation and the threat of industrial actions remain key concerns for the board.

The board receives a total of Sh360 million from the government every year to carry out its marketing and advertising activities, an amount that Kariuki said is not adequate.

However, she welcomes moves such as the introduction of the newly amendment tea regulations that opens up different avenues for the board to raise additional revenues.

Currently, the only source of revenue for the agency is the cess it levies on manufactured tea.

With the new law however, the MD said they are exploring various options through which they hope to internally generate funds to finance their operations.

“We are working on a partnership with an external partner who is coming along to support some very specific IT (Information Technology) related issues so that we can automate our processes and link us with the industry stakeholders and be able to raise more resources,” she said although she remained guarded on who the associate is or the nature of the collaboration.

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