Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) has launched a programme aimed at ensuring reliable supply of wood fuel to its factories.
The first component of the two-pronged programme involves the 65 tea factories managed by KTDA propagating tree seedlings, mainly Eucalyptus, which are then released to the local communities for planting.
They are also relying on firewood from their own forest plantations to meet energy requirements for tea processing. Almost 99 per cent of thermal energy used in the factories comes from firewood and other biomass, while the remaining percentage comes from fuel oil.
KTDA chairman Peter Kanyago said in the last five years, the factories have used 3,927,939 cubic metres of firewood to generate thermal energy.
During the same period, the factories released 20,490,923 seedlings to neighbouring communities for current and future supply of firewood.
This was equivalent to 4,740,559 cubic metres of expected firewood.
“The KTDA wood-fuel development programme, which began more than 12 years ago, is designed to ensure that all tea factories have commercially as well as environmentally sustainable sources of wood fuel,” a statement from KTDA said.
“The factories are acquiring their own land to plant trees, both to meet their wood fuel needs, as well as for conservation,” it added.
The KTDA plan is to acquire and plant 40,300 acres of exotic trees for wood fuel and indigenous trees for conservation.
As at February this year, KTDA-managed factories had acquired 13,880 acres of land, which represents 34 per cent of the total land targeted.
Of this, 7,185 acres (52 per cent) in Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Embu, Kirinyaga, Tharaka Nithi and Meru has already been planted with trees, stated the tea agency.
Other areas include Kericho, Bomet, Kisii, Nyamira, Nandi, Trans-Nzoia and Vihiga.
The programme is being implemented through the agency’s Environmental Conservation Foundation that targets to plant about five million indigenous trees by 2017.
The on-going tree planting campaign is expected to bring the total planted indigenous trees in 2012/2013 financial year to 500,000. The foundation aims to increase this to 750,000 trees in the next financial year, a report from the agency indicates.
Mr Kanyago said under the environmental sustainability pillar, KTDA is partnering with Germany’s Development Agency (GIZ), in a coo-stoves project that is ensuring a 40 per cent reduction in firewood use in tea farmers’ kitchens.
According to the tea agency, to date, 37,787 cook-stoves have been built in KTDA farmers’ kitchens and 924 farmers have acquired new skills as cook-stove builders.
“The target is to roll out this programme to all the 560,000 small-scale tea farmers,” the agency stated.
Each of the 65 KTDA-managed factories propagates 150,000 tree seedlings annually, 30 per cent of which are indigenous species for conservation, while the rest are exotic species to meet the factories’ wood fuel needs.
These initiatives are greening Kenya’s rural areas, conserving water catchment areas, restoring riparian zones and helping to mitigate the impact of climate change, according to KTDA officials.
At the same time, the tea agency is in the process of introducing use of tea-plucking scissors to check high cost of production.
Mr Kanyago said rising labour costs were the main impediment facing tea farmers and the scissors would help double production and reduce tea wastage in the farms.
“The major cost is labour and we as KTDA we shall be experimenting on using scissors to pluck tea,” said Mr Kanyago.
The plucking pay is now Sh10 a kilogramme. Farmers receive Sh14 per kilogramme of green leaf delivered to KTDA leaving them with just Sh4.
“Our competitive advantage is the quality and we shall never compromise on that,” he added.