Tea Time in Kenya

Foodservice Footprint Andrew-Ethuru-Director-of-Michimikuru-Tea-Factory-and-Premium-Committee-Chair-199x300 Tea Time in Kenya Features Features Interviews: Industry professionals  weather pattern The Kenya Tea Research Foundation Michimikuru tea factory Michimikuru tea Kenya coffee Climate Change Cafedirect Producer Partnership Programme Cafedirect Andrew Kobia Ethuru Africa AdapCC Andrew Kobia Ethuru, a Cafédirect grower director at the Michimikuru tea factory in Kenya, talks to Footprint about the realities of climate change in that country and its impact on tea planters.

Whilst we in the UK might not feel the effects of climate shifts, growers in far-flung corners of the world such as Kenya do. It is arguable whether it is definitive change or a cycle and we want to stay clear of the climate change debate. Nevertheless, growers in Kenya and other places see changes in temperature, rain, and so on. What is the reality of this for you?

It is interesting to note that there are people around the world who do not believe that the climatic changes we are experiencing are actually due to climate change, and instead attribute it to the Weather Cycle. The weather pattern in the UK in early 1970s and 1980s, was not what one witnesses today. I personally experienced extremely cold winters in the UK during my college days in 1970s and 1980s. Today, the winters in the UK are a lot warmer and more erratic, and this is not a “Cycle” – I believe it is the climate change shift.

In Africa, and in particular, Kenya, effects of the climate change shift have been severely felt. When I was a child and growing up in Kenya, there were consistent weather patterns, which farmers relied on to grow their crops. These weather patterns have slowly changed over the years, with catastrophic effects on the crop yields due to long droughts, sometimes unpredictably long rains and increased temperatures. Snow capped Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro have both lost their glaciers over the years. Higher grounds where there were once no malaria diseases are now seeing increasing incidences of these diseases, and they are becoming more and more commonplace. What else can these changes be down to other than climate change? Can you tell Footprint readers how this affects Michimikuru? Are you seeing these effects now? 

Tea was first grown in Michimikuru in 1960. During those days, the weather in Michimikuru was considered the coldest and with sufficient rainfall patterns, it was ideal for tea growing. Over the years, the weather has become warmer, with less rainfall and long periods of drought, which has had a significant impact on crop yields. Those days, one was able to plant young tea seedlings with survival rates over 95 per cent. Today, the survival rate is barely 40per cent. Also, there were no cases of malaria, but today it is different story.

Water is such a valuable resource. What are you at Michimikuru doing to conserve it?

Water has continued to be a scarce commodity, partly due to the effects outlined above, and partly due to population growth. Michimikuru is the water source for many neighbouring districts. Over the years, the rivers taking water from Michimikuru to these neighbouring districts have been drying up, meaning that the affected communities have been forced to come looking for the water in Michimikuru. Michimikuru Tea Company (which is owned by the tea growing community), in partnership with Cafédirect and GTZ, embarked on a food diversification programme to assist the community in addressing and adapting to the effects of climate change, as well as to address the tea monoculture. In this programme, we have factored in a soil and water conservation component to address the declining water resource. This ongoing programme started in 2008 and continues to receive funding from the Cafédirect Producer Partnership Programme (PPP). Water sources are being taken care of by planting water- friendly tree species, and getting rid of water-thirsty exotic tree species such as eucalyptus.

Have you managed to source teas that are not so thirsty and therefore more sustainable?

The Kenya Tea Research Foundation has, over the years, researched tea clones that are drought-resistant and high yielding in an effort to combat the effects of climate change on the tea-growing areas of Kenya. We now have tea varieties that are both high-yielding and of excellent quality, which do not require huge amounts of water in order to grow. Any new tea- growers wishing to start new farms are advised to plant the drought resistant clones, which are far more sustainable.

I understand you have been partners with Cafédirect since 2005. What has the partnership brought you since then in terms of benefits?

Our partnership with Cafédirect started in 2005, during which time they supported us for two years in qualifying for Fairtrade certification. Thereafter, they started buying our teas. In my mind, Cafédirect is very different from other Fairtrade certified buyers as, alongside the normal premiums paid, they use their profits to support us through PPP, a yearly support programme. Last year, Cafédirect provided funding through their AdapCC programme to assist us in addressing the effects of climate change. This programme was implemented by GTZ and Imani International, and culminated in a regional AdapCC workshop in November 2009 in Nairobi, Kenya. Cafédirect have also assisted Michimikuru Tea Factory in reducing its electricity and wood fuel consumption and achieve Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certification, amongst many other things.

What should people here in the UK understand and have empathy for?

People from the UK need to understand that industries within the UK are partly to blame for climate change. Gas and chemical emissions into the atmosphere from a range of industries are largely to blame for the depletion of the ozone layer. These effects have significant impact on poorer producers in the third world more than anyone else across the globe.

How do you see Cafédirect and your business working together in the future?

Our partnership with Cafédirect is built on mutual understanding and respect of one another. Future collaboration in our businesses will continue as long as the two principals exist, and we have no reason to think otherwise. Cafédirect’s business model and the ‘Gold Standard’ are unique to the business, and I believe they will stand the test of time.