The modernisation tea sector needs


Empire Kenya EPZ team taste tea taste tea before packaging for export. FILE PHOTO | NMG

As a result of a successful tea-tasting event in Brussels, the Hague and Berlin recently, several issues have emerged that are defining the sector, including quality, pricing, and market value.

Markets are changing because entrepreneurial trends have evolved as societal, technological, and economic landscapes have changed.

Although Kenya is one of the world's largest tea producers, it does not fetch higher values than in other countries. Modernisation could change the fortunes of the country, and here is why.

This new world demands data to devise new strategies, develop new products or respond to customer demands. We cannot continue to do things as in the past.

Many new tea-producing competitor countries have modernised their production, processing and product offerings from the crop.

They are calling it ‘From Farm to Cup.’ The new producers, especially new entrants in East Africa, have created an incredibly competitive product. In contrast, we remain with outdated production techniques.

The higher quality of these new producers is primarily due to using better and more efficient processing techniques rooted in innovative technology. As a result, they are fetching better prices than the Kenyan tea.

Large tea producers in Kenya have been constrained by union-related challenges, potentially leading to business closures, given that some large producers are exiting the country.

This could worsen the unemployment crisis in the country. However, production mechanisation and the use of modern technologies can improve productivity and result in economic growth.

The mechanisation of tea picking does not necessarily result in the unemployment of tea pickers. Instead, it increases opportunities and job creation.

This is because it can boost production and generate new employment. Remarkably, if the increased output is diversified into new industries such as cosmetics or canned tea, that can make our tea farmers depart from the age-old practice of selling loose-leaf tea.

It also optimises the various stages of tea cultivation and processing, resulting in cost-effectiveness, and yield while preserving or enhancing tea quality.

These innovations encompass several critical aspects of the tea industry, including mechanised harvesting to reduce labour costs and maintain quality, pruning machines for healthier bushes, consistent yields, and controlled withering.

Drying technology is suitable for high-quality tea. This includes automated sorting and grading for product consistency, packaging machinery for efficiency, quality control technology, oxidation control for flavour profiles, and automation of entire tea factories.

Competitors in other countries are integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI). Automation, guided by AI, ensures precise harvesting, quality assessment, and processing control, further guaranteeing consistent tea products.

AI aids in blending, flavour profiling, and predictive maintenance while optimising inventory management and supply chains.

In marketing, AI analyses market trends and offers personalised recommendations to consumers, fostering engagement. Moreover, AI contributes to sustainability by monitoring resource usage and environmental impact.

AI drives the tea industry's efficiency, quality, sustainability, and consumer engagement. In Asian countries, AI is revolutionising the tea industry by enhancing various aspects of cultivation, production, and marketing.

AI-driven precision agriculture optimises tea farming by analysing data from sensors and drones while improving crop yield and quality.

We have a chance to deal with climate change proactively as other countries impose rules that could curtail the expansion of tea-growing areas.

In this regard, AI can also monitor and improve sustainability practices in tea production. It can track resource usage, energy efficiency, and environmental impact, helping tea producers adopt more sustainable practices.

Prosperity is intricately linked to our ability to harness creativity and innovation to pursue a more sustainable future.

Continuous innovation is essential for addressing pressing global challenges such as climate change, resource depletion, and environmental degradation.

Although quality tea is subjective, there are some guiding factors, including freshness, leaf grade matters, and origin that influence tea character.

Overall, mechanisation and productivity improvement are crucial to ensuring the sustainability and competitiveness of the tea industry.

The writer is Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium, Mission to the European Union, Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States and World Customs Organization. The article is written at a personal level.

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