About three years ago, farmers in Nandi County shifted from green to purple tea, hoping to benefit from better returns.
But their hopes have been dashed after multinationals shunned the new variety, citing lack of local consumption.
The farmers had expected to earn more for the purple tea variety due to favourable prices in the international market.
From one acre, a farmer can harvest up to 4,500kg a year.
Mr Emmanuel Kipkogei, a farmer from Kaburwo, Nandi Hills, says he is yet to reap much from the shift.
“We planted the crop because we had been promised that it fetches up to Sh100 per kilogramme. But tea companies are buying small quantities to mix with the green varieties due to low local consumption,” he says, adding that they pay the same amount of money for the two varieties.
“We are very discouraged. We invested heavily but are lacking a processor. We need a serious firm to help us add value for the export market,” he says.
But lack of processing companies is not the only challenge. Farmers have to contend with erratic weather patterns. During the recent drought, the tea crop shed the purple colour and adopted a green hue.
“It is still a new variety, we are not sure how to manage it; whether to provide shade during such seasons,” says Mr Alex Kiptoo, another farmer.
But it is not all gloom, as one farmer, Mr Boaz Keter in Tinderet, has set up a small purple tea processor. The plant can handle an average of 200kg in a day.
“Last month, we attended three trade fairs in North America and Canada where we got clients for the processed product. We have also penetrated the Chinese market,” says Mr Keter.
He says that many Kenyans are yet to understand how to prepare tea from the processed purple variety. “There is a need for more awareness of the product. It doesn’t work well with milk, but with lemon and other products,” explains Mr Keter.
Last November, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett said Kenya was looking for more investors to set up factories to process the purple and orthodox tea varieties due to high demand in the global market.
“These teas have high medicinal value and demand for them is high in the global market. The government wants local farmers to make higher profits,” he said, while pledging to remove hurdles in the setting up of new factories.
The current factories lack capacity to process all the tea from farmers.
Mr Bett asked tea companies to expand and modernise, and to add value to purple and orthodox teas for export.
“There are ready markets for these types of teas in Europe, China, America, Russia and Japan. Consumers in developed countries buy huge amounts of tea from these varieties,” he added.
The Kenya Tea Research Institute estimates that the country produces and exports over 90 per cent of the teas as black teas.
The teas are sold in bulk, and are usually used for blending lower quality teas from other countries.
Last month, East African Tea Traders Association, which runs the globally renowned Mombasa auction, revealed that plans were at an advanced stage to roll out trading in purple, green and orthodox teas at the weekly auction.
The move is expected to make the country the pioneer purple tea sales host. The tea directorate said the auction would play a key role in creating clear structures for marketing.
Currently, only black CTC tea, which Kenya is renowned for, is sold through the auction. Some speciality varieties are sold directly to the export market.
“We are doing a feasibility study to establish if we can have consistent supply at the auction to maintain the trading throughout,” said Mr Edward Mudibo, the managing director of the association.