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Drought affects tea production.

What is probably the severest drought in Southern and Eastern Africa in living memory is having in adverse effect on all agricultural production, including tea, in countries as far apart as Kenya and Zimbabwe, with a consequent rise in tea prices to the highest levels since January 1991 at the London auctions.


Not only is Kenyan tea production being affected by the poor weather conditions, it is also being affected by inter-tribal fighting among pickers on tea estates in western Kenya. Some workers have fled to escape violent conflict.

Top Kenyan brokerage firm, African Tea Brokers (ATB), reported that, although some areas west of the Rift Valley had received intermittent showers, overall rainfall in all tea-growing areas was below normal.

This extended period of dry weather had resulted in marked losses in crop production. Any rain that falls would now have to be substantial in order to stabilize and reverse the situation.

The ATB added that tea bushes were under stress in all areas and, consequently, production would progressively decline in all areas.

Officials of the Kenya Tea Board (KTB) said that this year's production would not match last year's record crop of 202 million kg. For the first two months of 1992, production was just over 13 million kg, a fall of 3.6 million kg or nearly 22%.

A KTB official added that, with such a trend and with no improvements in the overall situation in sight, production was expected to fall further.

With Kenya's population increasing almost threefold since independence from Great Britain in December 1963 to a current figure of about 25 million, pressure on land is building up especially in the more fertile areas in western Kenya. This has led to the so-called "land clashes" which erupted last November and to date has resulted in over 300 people being killed in the worst tribal violence since independence.

Since the violence started, farmers in western Kenya have neglected their crops and pickers have left their jobs and demanded that their employers return them to their home areas.

Kenya's tea production has increased tenfold from 20.2 million kg in 1964 worth US$ 22 million to the 1991 figure which earned the country US$ 265 million in foreign currency, second only to the country's US$ 400 million tourist industry.


Despite the fall in tea production in Kenya, the picture in neighboring Uganda is completely different, with officials of the Uganda Tea Board (UTB) painting a much more rosy picture.

Tea output plummeted during the civil war years and brutal dictatorships of the 70's and 80's, but production has now been boosted by a government program of freeing exports and reducing foreign currency controls, including the abolition of UTB'S export monopoly, thereby allowing traders to export tea directly.

Output rose to 8,806,000 kg in 1991 from 6,740,000 kg in 1990, according to an UTB official who added that production was expected to pass the target of 10 million kg this year. In 1964, the first year of independence from Great Britain, 7,632,000 kg of tea were produced. Overall progress in tea production has been minimal since independence.


All Zimbabwe's tea is produced in the eastern districts where rainfall is high - in excess of 40 inches per year. However, this last rainy season, October to April, has been one of the driest in living memory, with less than one third of normal rainfall.

This drought has had a marked effect on tea production. Not only have dryland crops suffered, but so have irrigated crops where water supplies for pumping have been exhausted. Once irrigation could no longer be continued, tea bushes soon became stressed, while dryland bushes, because of their more extensive root system, have been better able to withstand the adverse weather.

Tanganda Tea Company Limited, the largest producer of tea within Zimbabwe accounting for about 50% of the country's total production, recently announced that, although the season began satisfactorily with the crop to the end of November being ahead of last season, by the end of February, the crop was marginally down as the drought began to affect the crop.

During January and February - normally the wettest months in Zimbabwe- rainfall was only 20% of the decennial average, and in March and April, rainfall was negligible on the company estates.

It was further reported that, to date, mature tea plantations have survived the drought satisfactorily and could be expected to produce normally in the event of a good start of the coming rainy season. However, it was unlikely that any late rains this season would have a material effect on the current crop.

Overall tea production in Zimbabwe could be down by about one third during the current production season, to approximately 10,000 tons.

Malawi's tea production is also likely to be down, again due to the drought. The current political troubles in the country could also affect production. In 1990, tea accounted for 12% of the value of Malawi's total exports, a poor second to tobacco's 70%.
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Title Annotation:Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe
Author:Kille, Turville
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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