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Tea farmers set to pocket low earnings due to severe drought

Drought has cut green leaf tea deliveries by 25 per cent, especially hitting areas with the best quality teas, industry managers have said.

This sets farmers, most of who are small-scale growers, up for lower earnings at the end of the year, a reversal from the 2015/16 bonus pay they enjoyed.

Factories managed by the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) are now operating below capacity with the worst hit areas being premium quality tea producers of Kirinyaga, Nyeri and Embu counties.

The delivery fell to 705.2 million kilogrammes in the nine months to March compared to 936.6 million kilos in a similar period last year.

“This year’s production is, however, largely in line with the average annual green leaf delivery, bar exceptional years that see above normal rainfall,” said the world’s single-largest black tea exporter on Wednesday.

The KTDA warned the production dip and lower prices at the Mombasa Tea Auction mean output is unlikely to match the Sh84 billion generated last year, translating to lower earnings for the 560,000 smallholder farmers.

The sharp drop in green leaf has been attributed to the prolonged dry spell.

February was the worst hit month with deliveries dropping 52 per cent to 54.3 million kilogrammes compared to 114 million kilogrammes in the same period last year.

March saw a drop of 35.8 per cent to 77.9 million kilogrammes.

KTDA chief executive Lerionka Tiampati said factories in the worst hit areas operate for two days a week to cut costs.

The decline has been fuelled by the stark differences in weather over the two years.

The El Niño rains in the 2015/16 year led to a bumper crop while the current prolonged dry spell has hit output.

Rainfall recorded in the smallholder tea growing areas decreased to 761.5mm in the nine months from 1,360.2mm with January registering the least amount at 23.5mm compared to 134.7mm in January last year.

Prices at the Mombasa Tea Auction have also been lower at an average $2.5 (Sh258.25) per kilogramme in the nine months to March. This compares poorly with the $2.74 (Sh283.04) average for a similar period last year.

The depressed prices are mainly due to the surplus tea in the market carried over from last year.

The closure of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in late February depressed tea prices at the Mombasa Auction.

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