Fragmentation of tea farms in the face of tumbling global prices and rising production costs is threatening the survival of Kenya’s small scale tea growers. The Tea Board of Kenya is now championing consolidation of tea farms under peasant ownership for them to remain viable but is at a loss on how to effect this or stem further sub-division. "This is a fundamental problem and it is difficult to solve," said Mr Lerionka Tiampati, the Kenya Tea Development Agency managing director. The Tea Board of Kenya is now grappling with the issue of continued subdivision and how to make farmers consolidate already sub-divided farms.
"It is true that uncontrolled rate of land sub-division by smallholder tea growers has made tea farming enterprise uneconomically viable for them," said the Tea Board managing director, Ms Sicily Kariuki. The subdivision has been fuelled by the increasing rate of population growth coupled with non corresponding increase in available arable land. "The population volume ratio vis a vis land area cannot support viable economic land use for the small holder growers," said the Ms Kariuki.
According to the board, traditional ownership and inheritance of land in Kenya has also persistently played a big role in aggravating the already precarious situation. Traditions of most communities in tea growing areas coupled with the high cost of land have forced many to inherit family land leading to increased subdivision. Small scale tea holders in the country now account for 90 per cent of the total number of tea farmers.
The solution to this problem, said Ms Kariuki is to educate the small holder farmers on the dire need to adopt consolidated group farming which will lead to appropriate economic land units to discourage land sub-division into uneconomical units. Figures from the board show that farmers with a quarter acre currently harvest an average of 1,300 kilogrammes of tea and earn Sh34 daily from tea picked. On the other hand an acre of tea produces 5,250 kilograms of tea giving farmers a daily income of Sh150. Consolidation will help to increase farmers’ earnings and reduce production costs as they take advantage of economies of scale, said the tea board boss.
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