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Tea companies say logging ban to hit production

A worker loads tea leaves on a conveyor belt at Iriaini Tea Factory in Nyeri County. Most factories use firewood to dry tea leaves. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI
A worker loads tea leaves on a conveyor belt at Iriaini Tea Factory in Nyeri County. Most factories use firewood to dry tea leaves. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI 

Tea factories in Kenya face possible closure following a government ban on logging that has hit hundreds of factories that rely on firewood to run their processing machines.

Firewood makes up 70 per cent of energy used in drying tea leaves instead of furnace oil and electricity which is expensive.

The government issued a blanket ban on logging for a period of three months aimed at stopping the rampant destruction of forests and the near depletion of natural ecosystems.

East African Tea Traders Association (Eatta) wants tea factories to be exempted from the ban as it is likely to hit production.

“Unless the ban is suspended most tea producers will have to close down as the business model would not be able to sustain the costs ,” said Edward Mudibo, Eatta managing director.

“Tea production uses up to 70 per cent of wood energy. This therefore means the tea industry which entirely relies on firewood to generate heat for tea drying will be adversely affected,” he added.

Mr Mudibo said the tea industry is in the forefront of forest conservation activities like propagating tree seedlings, mainly eucalyptus, which are then released to the local communities for planting exotic trees for wood fuel and indigenous trees for conservation.

Most of the tea companies rely on firewood from own forest plantations to meet energy requirements for tea processing and have partnerships with key environment development agencies.

“The blanket ban shall have adverse effects on the tea industry, Kenya’s leading foreign exchange earner and major employer and this has to be protected,” he added.

Tea is the largest foreign exchange earner in Kenya after remittances contributing over Sh114 billion in 2013, Sh101 billion in 2014 Sh124 billion in 2015, Sh120.6 billion in 2016 and Sh129 billion in 2017.

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