Tea factories in Kenya at risk of closure following logging ban

Factories and businesses in Kenya that rely on firewood, especially Tea factories fear total shut down of operations following the government’s temporary ban on lodging.

An estimated 20 to 25 percent of annual deforestation is said to be due to commercial logging. According to a study by Green Africa Foundation, Kenya loses over 5.6 million trees daily, despite relentless campaigns on environmental conservation. With the rate at which trees are cut daily, over 2.04 billion trees are cut yearly for commercial use, excluding more than 1.5million households who use charcoal.

The research findings reveal that 64.6 percent of Kenyans depend entirely on firewood as their cooking fuel, where each household harvests between 10kgs and 20kgs of firewood daily.

To conserve the country’s depleting forest and boost the water levels that has dropped drastically in major rivers, Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto issued a blanket ban on logging in all forests in the country for a period of three months in February 2018.

However, Tea traders have criticised the ban on logging, saying it will affect production which is done traditionally and relies heavily on firewood. According to these Tea traders, 70 per cent of tea production process uses wood energy; firewood makes up 70 per cent of energy used in drying tea leaves which is cheaper than using furnace oil and electricity for production.

In a statement, the managing director of the East African Tea Traders Association (EATTA), Edward Mudibo noted that, “unless the ban is suspended, most tea producers will have to close down as the business model would not be able to sustain the costs.”

Ironically an industry that is heavily reliant of firewood for its production claims to be at the forefront of conservation in the country. According to Mudibo, “the tea industry is at the forefront of forest conservation activities like propagating tree seedlings which released afterwards to the local communities for planting exotic trees for wood fuel and indigenous trees for conservation”.

Why do Tea factories in Kenya produce traditionally?

Kenyan tea comes in different forms, majorly black. However, the most rare and reputable Kenyan tea is the purest form and has been proven to have the highest concentration of antioxidants compared to any other tea on the globe.

As with other teas, the purity lies in the production. For tea production in Kenya, it is believed that the highest quality Kenyan tea is processed traditionally by picking the tender leaves by hand and allowing the enzymes to ferment.

Although, the processing of tea leaves is becoming increasingly automated in order to produce higher quantities for sales, about 60% of the tea in Kenya is produced by small-scale farmers.

Kenyan black tea is the largest foreign exchange earner in Kenya after remittances contributing over Sh114 billion in 2013, Sh101 billion in 2014 Sh124 billion in 2015, Sh120.6 billion in 2016 and Sh129 billion in 2017.