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Farmers get approval to grow new purple tea variety for sale

Kenya’s tea  output grew by 27 per cent to a record 399 million kilogrammes last year. File
Kenya’s tea output grew by 27 per cent to a record 399 million kilogrammes last year. File 

The government has approved the commercial production of a new variety of purple tea with high medicinal value, raising prospects for growers eyeing the speciality market.

“The Tea Research Foundation of Kenya (TRFK) has been granted the Plant Breeders Rights for the purple tea variety,” Mr Samson Kamunya, a plant breeder at the foundation told the Business Daily Wednesday.

“This means commercialisation of the variety will proceed... Growers can go ahead and establish gardens and plantations with the variety for processing of a speciality tea product,”

The rights to commercially produce the variety known as TRFK 306 were granted through a Kenya Gazette notice by the Minister for Agriculture after approval by the plant standards regulator—the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services.

The new purple variety, or clone, has higher medicinal properties than green and black tea and its seeds produce oil suitable for cooking, cosmetics and the pharmaceutical industries, the foundation said.

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Analysts said purple tea will boost earnings for industry players seeking to diversify their products through value-addition.

Global tea markets are fast saturating with the commodity, forcing traditional exporters such as Kenya to be more innovative. Researchers at TRFK refer to hybrid tea varieties grown through vegetative propagation as clones because cuttings from old tea bushes are grafted on to new plants with desirable genetic traits.

Kenya last year also launched two new drought resistant tea clones, TRFK 371/3 and TRFK 430/90, which yield about 50 per cent more and enhance profitability on better quality.

Researchers said a notable advantage of the two hybrids is that they are suitable for mechanised harvesting, lowering expenses for an industry hard-pressed by growing labour costs.

TRFK said in March that the demand for TRFK 371/3 and TRFK 430/90 had picked up although at slower pace than earlier anticipated because of the perennial nature of tea and lack of land to expand crop acreage.

Statistics by the industry regulator, the Tea Board of Kenya, showed that 2010’s output grew 27 per cent to a record 399 million kilogrammes and that earnings rose 40 per cent to Sh97 billion, surging past horticulture which brought in Sh78 billion.

The tea industry faces high rivalry from horticultural crops, even though recent good prices and improved earnings such as those realised in 2010 has renewed interest in the beverage.

The regulator projects that Kenya is likely to match last year’s record-setting earnings from tea exports, thanks to stable prices and a weaker currency against the dollar. Production is expected to fall to 360 million kilogrammes this year, dragged lower by bad weather in several growing areas.

Kenya’s tea production for the first half of the year fell 16 per cent due to hot and dry weather and poorly distributed rainfall in tea growing areas, sending exports lower.

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