Tea Tops Tourism as Kenya’s Top Earner

MOMBASA, Kenya

Five hundred delegates to the First Africa Tea Convention heard presidential praise for tea which is now Kenya’s top foreign exchange earner. The tea industry unseated tourism this year.

“It is evident that tea is the most important single commodity for our economy and as a source of income for a large number of our people,” Kenya President Mwai Kibaki told delegates at the Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort & Spa. The convention, a first event of its kind in Africa, was hosted by the East Africa Tea Trade Association.

Tea production topped 399 million kg and now accounts for 10 percent of the global output, Kibaki told the upbeat crowd. “Tea earned our country Sh97 billion ($1 billion) in 2010, up from Sh73 billion ($811 million) the previous year,” said Kibaki.

The tea sector offers investment opportunities, benefits rural development and generates income and jobs for hundreds of thousands of workers. Tea is essential to the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, he said.

Tea also presents challenges Kibaki told delegates.

He said too much of Kenya’s tea is exported in bulk without adding value which makes it vulnerable to fierce competitive pressure globally. He also noted production costs are rising and climate-change is a major impediment to growth.

Output dropped significantly this year due to extended dry periods in the Rift Valley and the general lack of irrigation. Much of Africa currently suffers from drought.

“Ultimately, the bottom line will be the quality of tea we produce. I therefore appeal to our tea farmers to strive to produce quality tea that will continue attract better prices that will help fight poverty,’’ said Kibaki.

Africa annually produces 600 million kg of tea of which half is sold domestically. This represents about 15 percent of global production but 32 percent of global exports. Kenya is now the world’s largest exporter of CTC black tea. The combined output of Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe accounts for 35 percent of African tea production. Kenya produces 65 percent.

Sources: Africa Review, The Standard