Farmers and multinational tea companies in the North Rift have called on the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) to weed out low-quality teas exported through Kenya to world markets.
Teas from the region get to the world markets via the weekly auctions in Mombasa.
According to the tea companies and experts, Kenya produces quality tea, which could fetch the highest earnings in the world markets.
They, however, claim that when combined with produce from other East and Central African countries for export at the Mombasa port, Kenya’s tea ends up fetching low prices in the world market.
“For many decades, Kenya has been exploited and forced to compete for international buyers with some countries which produce low-quality tea,” said Siret Tea Company Director Joseph Lagat.
The tea companies said unless the Kebs intervened, the tea sector would continue to be exploited yet the country’s produce is of the high-quality that should fetch premium prices in Asian and European markets.
“The Kenyan government through Kebs should move with speed to control quality and pricing of locally produces tea auctioned in Mombasa for the global market and ensure farmers and tea companies don’t suffer due to some technicalities which some of those in authority do not understand,” said Mr Lagat.
The farmers have warned that unless a quick and lasting solution was put in place to stamp out further exploitation, the tea sector faces imminent collapse “like happened in South Africa some years back”.
“With fair competition for prices based on the quality of processed tea being auctioned for export to foreign countries, Kenya can earn maximum profit from the tea industry whose earnings has dropped in the recent years due to glut in the world market,” said Gideon Too, a tea farmer.
“While Kenya produces the best quality processed tea, it faces a lot of challenges due to unfair competition from countries which are known for producing and processing low-quality tea within the Eastern Africa region.”.
Mr Too, a former official at the Kenya Tea Growers Association and a director at Siret Tea Company urged the East Africa Tea Trade Organisation to assess the quality of tea from the region.