Kenya targets 5 million kilos tea export to China annually after signing deal

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi at a Kenya Tea Development Agency function on January 12, 2023. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kenya has set its sights on exporting at least five million kilograms of tea annually to China within the next three years after signing a deal with the Asian economic giant.

The development follows the signing of cooperation between Kenya tea manufacturers and Benny Tea Company aimed at facilitating trade in the commodity between the two countries.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi said the partnership, which has resulted in the launch of China Kenya Tea Trade Centre, seeks to tap into the country's 70 million urbanised tea consumers market.

He said that the launch of the centre is set to positively change the landscape of Kenya's CTC and Orthodox market share in China.

Similarly, smallholder farmers will benefit from the cooperation as Benny Tea will support KTDA and independent tea producer factories with equipment and technology transfer.

Transforms livelihoods

"This partnership provides an opportunity to radically transform the livelihoods of Kenyan farmers as the cooperation grows over the next three years," said Mr Linturi.

"I challenge both the Chinese and Kenyan partners in this project to ensure that within 3 years from this date, this cooperation achieves at least 5 million kilos of tea traded between both countries," he added.

The CS observed that in Kenya, tea fetches the country over Sh150 billion annually with 750,000 farmers deriving their livelihoods from the sector which supports approximately 6.5 million livelihoods either directly or indirectly.

Kenya is the third largest producer of tea after China and India but is the leading exporter of tea to over 77 countries globally.

However, Chinese traders and consumers have not been able to purchase large volumes of Kenyan orthodox tea products despite China being an importer of orthodox tea from Kenya as well as Sri Lanka and India.

He attributed the situation to the inability of Kenyan speciality tea manufacturers to meet Chinese tea market requirements in regard to leaf and liquor appearance, a key decision-making attribute when purchasing.

This has led Sri Lankan entrepreneurs to capture the market, setting up distribution warehouses in key Chinese cities.

"This deficiency has been attributed to market access challenges and lack of appropriate manufacturing equipment and technical capacity needed to produce the kind of tea that would appeal to the Chinese market," said Linturi.

Memorandum of Understanding

The launch of the centre follows a 2019 visit by the chairman of Benny Tea/Fujian StarChina International Trade to Kenya, in particular, the Kenyan Specialty Tea Industry.

CS Linturi said that during the visit, they agreed to prepare and sign a Memorandum of Understanding that will provide a collaboration framework to facilitate tea trade between Kenya and China.

"My Ministry together with the Tea Board of Kenya will work with Benny Tea to ensure Kenyan tea sold through this cooperation and value added at the centre will bear the produce of Kenya mark," said the CS.

"This will enhance brand recognition and visibility within the Chinese tea consumers. It will also enable traceability, from farm to cup," he added.

Mr Linturi pointed out that the growth and sustainability of the Chinese and Kenyan tea industry depends on enhancing such collaborations and continuous consultations amongst the partners involved.

Consequently, he called on Benny Tea to set up a value addition facility in Mombasa to pack and export tea to other export markets besides China.

"The Tea Board of Kenya will offer space to Benny Tea within Special Economic Zones to achieve this end," he said.