Stakeholders in the tea industry say the rapid growth in capacity of factories is compromising the quality of the beverage in the market, leading to falling prices of the commodity in the international market.
The declining quality, say tea buyers, has negatively impacted the competitiveness of Kenya’s tea, hence reducing demand.
“Factories are now competing for volumes and not quality. As such, the quality of our Kenyan tea that we used to enjoy some five or 10 years ago has been going down, affecting the price of the commodity,” said Peter Kimanga, a tea exporter with Global Tea Commodities.
Kenyan tea has traditionally enjoyed healthy demand internationally on account of superior quality that has seen buyers seek it to blend with other low quality beverages.
“Kenyan tea is of such a high premium in some consuming markets that the importers keep track of the auction trends on a weekly basis and will make purchase orders for a specific plantations or garden marks,” said East African Tea Trade Association (Eatta) managing director Edward Mudibo.
The Tea Directorate says about five factories have been registered in the last three years while the existing ones have been expanding their production lines.
Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) director general, Anthony Muriithi said they have been addressing the issue of quality by carrying out of quarterly checks in factories.
“The difference in quality might have been brought about by the new machines that have been installed in recent years, which have different parameters from the ones that have been in use for long,” said Mr Muriithi.
He said they have been advising the factories to ensure they procure equipment that have specific features in order to maintain the quality.
Mr Muriithi blamed the change in quality on agronomical practices such as poor plucking of the tea at the farms.
Tea prices at the auction have remained low since the beginning of the year, touching a low of Sh176 before gaining marginally to above Sh200 in the last four weeks.