Tea Growing and Production

The Tea Industry in Kenya is unique in that it is comprised of two distinct  sectors; the Plantation or large scale sector and the small holder sector. The Plantation sector is owned by large scale tea producers and companies while the small holders sector is by small scale growers. The small holder sector has registered more than half a million growers who are located across tea growing areas in the country. The small holder sector factories are managed by Kenya Tea Development Agency Ltd (KTDA).


Tea Growing in Kenya

The tea growing regions in Kenya are endowed with the ideal climate for tea. Tropical, volcanic red soils and well distributed rainfall ranging between 1200mm to 1400mm per annum that alternates with long sunny days; which attribute to these favorable conditions. Production goes on all round the year with two main peak seasons of high crop between March and June and October and December which coincide with the rain seasons. Kenya tea is grown free of agrochemicals because the ideal environment in which the tea is grown acts as a natural deterrent to pests’ infestation and diseases attack; This natural conditions guarantees the consumer the safest and most refreshing health drink.


Tea Growing Regions

The main tea growing areas in Kenya are situated in and around the highland areas on both sides of the Great Rift Valley; and astride the Equator within altitudes of between 1500 metres and 2700 metres above the sea level. These regions include the areas around Mt. Kenya, the Aberdares, and the Nyambene hills in the Central Kenya and the Mau escarpment , Kericho Highlands, Nandi  and Kisii Highlands and the the Cherangani Hills.

 
Areas; Around Mt. Kenya, Aberdares, Kericho, Nandi and Kisii Highlands.
 

Planting Materials

Clonal planting materials are developed through scientific innovations by the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya (TRFK) which have made vegetative propagation possible resulting in high yielding well adapted varieties. The selection of planting materials is enhanced by mapping the genetic and environmental conditions; where genotype – environment interaction trials are carried out as useful selection criteria for determining clonal genetic potential and adaptation so as to match the clones to specific areas where productivity can be maximized.  The developed clones are subjected to environmental response tests are various representative sites. So far the TRFK has developed about 50 varieties.

 

Plucking, Manufacturing and Quality

Kenya’s distinct and high quality teas are made from the upper two leaves and a bud. The young shoots are plucked in regular cycles ranging from seven to fourteen days. Kenya teas are mainly manufactured using the Cut, Tear and Curl (CTC) method to ensure maximum cuppage per unit weight. Kenya prides itself as the producer of the best black tea in the world due to the good agronomical and manufacturing practices and the ideal tea growing conditions. Kenya tea liquors range between good medium to very fine qualities, attributes that make Kenya tea the most sought after beverage in the world.


Nursery and Field management

Objective of nursery establishment

A tea nursery is established so that the young plants can be raised under controlled conditions of light, water, temperatures and pests, diseases and weeds control.


Site selection

A good tea nursery should be strategically located in order to provide maximum ease in management and good establishment of the plants. The following basic requirements should be observed when raising a tea nursery;-The nursery site should be near a suitable and adequate water source, Site sheltered from prevailing wind, The nursery site should be close to sources of suitable soil for pot filling, On sloppy areas, the site should face the sun, valleys and areas prone to frost should be avoided. The area should also be accessible at all times and should be secure.

 

Nursery soils and fertilizers

Ideal nursery soils should have a pH of 5.0-5.8 (optimal Ph 5.6), where the soils should be free draining and friable, free from murram, stones, dead woods and roots.
Fertilizer use, type and application rates should be as per tea grower’s handbook or an approved producer manual.

 

Nursery construction and management

Tea nursery management practices should comply with the recommendations in the Tea Growers’ Handbook or an approved producer manual. Materials used should be from a sustainable source while complying with the legislation on protection of plant species.

Material chosen when establishing a nursery should be suitable for the particular agro-ecological zone. The young seedlings are ready for transplanting after 8 months. The seedlings should be hardened off prior to transplanting when they are about 20cm, by reducing the frequency of watering and fertilizing and gradual exposure of the seedlings by removal of the shade. Complete exposure should be for two months before transplanting.

 

Farm management

Site selection

Tea should be grown only in agro ecological zones and sites complying with the Agricultural Act, Cap. 318 of the Laws of Kenya, in addition, to the stipulations of FAO/GAP, TRFK Growers Handbook, EMCA No. 8 of 1999 and The Forest Act, 2005.When establishing a new site to grow tea, an environmental impact assessment license from National Environment Management Authority should be obtained.


Cultivation and Agronomic practices

Cultivation techniques (time, methods and technology) applied should be such that they minimize soil erosion and compaction, and safeguard the environment. Field planting should conform to the recommendations in the tea growers’ handbook or an approved producer manual.

Agronomic practices should comply with the recommendations in the Tea Growers Handbook or an approved producer manual.


Pruning

Pruned tea trash should be left in situ to decompose for sustainable soil fertility. Recommended practices should be observed for sustainability of the tea plant as per tea growers’ handbook or approved producer manual.


Pests and disease control

The producers should manage pests and diseases in compliance with the national legislation on use of agrochemicals as per the provisions of Pest Control Products Act, Cap. 346 of the Laws of Kenya.


Fertilizer usage and Plant nutrition

The type and amount of fertilizers used should comply with the recommendations in the Tea Growers Handbook or an approved producer manual.
Application rates should meet the needs of the crop as recommended by recognized and certified persons. Growers should be able to demonstrate competence and knowledge in fertilizer usage.
 

Record of use

Records of fertilizer application indicating location, date of application, type and quantity of fertilizer applied should be established and maintained for reference.


Compliance in Quality and Safety

To assure the local and international markets of sustained safety and quality of the Kenya tea, the Board conducts continuous tea factories compliance audits on tea regulations and guidelines as well as on aspects of good agricultural practices (GAPS), good manufacturing practices (GMPS) and best practices.
Among the key National legislation areas for compliance in safety and quality include;--

 

  • Environmental Management and Coordination Act 1999 on Production, Processing and handling of Tea.
  • Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA), 2007 (Certificate of Registration of a Work Place).
  • The Food, Drug and Chemical Substances (Food Hygiene) Regulations (Cap 254) for the factory and factory Staff handling tea.
  • Kenya Standard  - KS:459;  Standard for Potable Water
  • Kenya Standard  - KS 40;  Standard for Labeling of Pre-packaged foods
  • Kenya Standard - KS 1927; Standard on Specifications for Tea Packets and Containers.
  • Kenya Standard  - KS 1972 ; Standard on bulk packaging of tea  for safety, quality and integrity
  • Kenya Standard -  KS 65 ;   Standard on Black Tea - Specifications 

In addition, the Board encourages the tea factories acquire the ISO certification standards in

  • ISO 9001: 2008 in Quality Management Systems
  • ISO 22000 in Food Safety Management Systems
  • ISO 14000 in Environmental  Management System


Environmental and Energy Use management

To sustainably address the environment and energy use, the tea factories are encouraged to develop and implement sustainable programmes. Wood fuel being the major energy source at the factories, all factories is expected to have adequate source of woodfuel, and implement sustainable woodfuel planting and harvesting policies.