TEA – THE PAST, PRESENT AND LIKELY FUTURE OF TANZANIA’S THIRD LARGEST AGRICULTURAL FOREIGN EXCHANGE EARNER
The first experimental tea was planted in 1904 by German settlers at the Agricultural Research Station at Amani, near Tanga and at the Kyimbila Mission near Tukuyu. The first estate was developed by a Mr. C. Gee in the Usambaras in 1926. A land development survey in 1929 recommended that tea should replace coffee in the Southern Highlands and a Tea Officer was appointed. Free seed was distributed to interested settlers between 1930 and 1934 and a small tea factory was opened in Mufindi in 1930. By 1934 1,000 hectares had been planted which produced 20 tonnes of processed tea. 9.3 tonnes were exported earning a revenue of £1,150. The tea industry had begun.
By 1938 tea production had reached 200 tonnes. During the Second World War many of the German tea planters had been interned and their estates taken over by the British Custodian of Enemy Property. The Custodian subsequently leased them to the Tanganyika Tea Company, a subsidiary of Brooke Bond Ltd. By 1956 production had increased to about 1,700 tons in Mufindi, 450 tonnes in Tukuyu and 740 tonnes in the Usambaras.
Until independence in 1961 tea production was wholly in the hands of foreign companies, or private estates. Then began a rapid development of production by smallholders.
By 1934 there were an estimated 28,700 farmers producing 4,000 tonnes of processed tea from about 9,000 ha. Most smallholder grown tea is individually managed and is planted either in isolated patches or within a larger block comprising all the tea from one village. The average holding is about 0.3 hectares, the largest being about 5 hectares. Much of the tea is clonal.
Fertiliser and herbicides are supplied by Kereku, the Cooperative Union and these inputs are paid for by a flat rate levy on all green leaf sold to the Tanzania Tea Authority (which was established in 1968 and manages the planting and processing).
The current annual average yield achieved by smallholders is 400 to 500kg ha of processed tea, These yields could higher be if some of the social and infrastructural constraints to production were removed. These include late delivery and application of fertiliser, unreliable transport and delayed payment for green leaf.
Today, Tanzania produces 15-18,000 tonnes of processed tea annually from a planted area of around 19,000 ha. Only Kenya and Malawi in Africa produce more. About 75% of the production is exported and tea has become the third largest foreign exchange generator in the Tanzanian agricultural sector.
The three main foreign companies producing tea in Tanzania are Brooke Bond Tanzania Ltd, George Williamson Tanzania Ltd., and the Mufindi Tea Company Ltd. which together manage some 4,500 ha in the Southern Highlands. They produce about 10,000 tonnes of tea each year. Other estates are privately owned, while some of those taken over by the Government in the 1970’s are now reverting to private ownership. Others are being run as joint venture companies between Government and an outside management/investment agency such as the Commonwealth Development Corporation.
A large proportion of estate tea was originally propagated from seed and is therefore genetically diverse. Since about 1970 however most new plantings and all in-fillings have been with clonal plants either selected locally or imported from Kenya or Malawi. The productivity of certain tea estates has risen considerably over the last thirty years. For example, from 1955 to 1970 average yields increased at the Kilima estate in Mufindi from 600 to just under 1,000 kg of made tea per ha. This was partly due to increased fertiliser applications, a change in the type of fertiliser used, and replacement of hand weeding by herbicides.
During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s shade trees were removed and in 1971 irrigation was introduced on a commercial scale. By the 1980’s yields (averaged over a four year pruning cycle) had reached 2,000 kg, per ha. Since 1980 yield increases have been less dramatic although in 1986 Brooke Bond Tanzania produced, on some 2,000 ha, an average yield of 2,412 kg per ha. Contributing to these increased yields have been changes in harvesting policy; for example three leaves and a bud being plucked instead of two leaves and a bud, and the introduction of ‘scheme plucking’ in which individuals are given responsibility for harvesting their own small area of tea (compared with traditional plucking by gangs of labourers).
It is fashionable to criticise plantations. They are chastised for occupying land which might otherwise be growing food crops and for using scarce foreign exchange to pay for imports such as fuel and spare parts. Although in some situations there may be some justification for this view, it is one-sided and there are many examples of situations where plantation crops make important contributions to the economy of a country and the welfare of its people. Nevertheless, fluctuations in the world price of commodities can have a big effect; for example, in Tanzania the demise of the sisal industry in the 1960’s and 70’s followed a fall in the world price of sisal. The profitability of the tea industry is similarly sensitive to such price changes.
Constraints to production
The major factors constraining production of tea, as in other agricultural industries in Tanzania, are foreign exchange restrictions and, until recently, artificially high exchange rates. There are shortages of fuel, equipment, spare parts, fertilisers, and electricity for drying and for irrigation pumps, which cause estates to keep high levels of stock in order to maintain production throughout the year. Shortage of people prepared to pluck tea has been another problem especially when there were no consumer goods to be bought in the shops.
Until 1978 research support for the industry was provided by the Tea Research Institute of East Africa with its sub-station in Amani, Tanzania but this was subsequently broken up. Although cultural trials at Amani have been recorded since then little new research has been undertaken. However, in 1986 the Federal Republic of Germany provided money to buy a farm in Mufindi which is to become the headquarters of a new Tanzanian Tea Research Institute which is being funded by the Tanzania Agricultural Research Organisation (TARO) through a cess on all tea sales. A study of the factors which have contributed to the increase in yields of tea in the Mufindi district in the last 15 years is being undertaken by Silsoe College in Britain by the authors of this article.
About 70% of tea production is exported in bulk either through the London tea auction (30%) or by direct contract sales (40%). Internal sales represent about 25% of production; the popular varieties being Green Label, Simba Chaia and Siftings. Consumption within Tanzania is increasing slowly and now averages 0.2 kg per head of the population compared with 3.1 kg in Britain.
Labelled brands for export are Safari, Kilimanjaro and African Pride sold in attractive 100, 250 or 500 g packs.
Tanzania stopped importing tea in 1979. Of the tea exported about 60% goes to the UK. The Sudan comes second and other important markets include Ireland, Canada, Pakistan, the USA, Somalia, W. Germany, the Netherlands and Ethiopia.
The tea industry has been going through a difficult period. In the estate sector there are soon going to be problems of continuity with many expatriate senior managers approaching retirement age. Recruiting qualified Tanzanian staff is difficult because the estates cannot reward them adequately for the responsibility they are charged with or for the necessity of living away from the main towns. There is also a lack of adequate training at all levels of the industry and an urgent need to establish a viable and relevant research and extension programme staffed by well qualified people.
However, during the last year confidence has increased despite recent reductions in the world price of tea. This is partly due to changes in government economic policies and to devaluation which has led to new investments and expansion plans. Given that this new-found confidence is supported by real improvements in the well-being and living standards of all those associated with the industry, then the tea industry seems set to develop again in a positive way.
Dr. M.K.V. CARR is Head of Agricultural Water Management at Silsoe College. He was in charge of the Ngwazi Irrigation Unit of the Mufindi Station of the Tea Research Institute of East Africa from 1966 to 1971.
Mr. T.C.E. CONGDON is the Estates Director of Brooke Bond, Tanzania Ltd. and has worked in Mufindi for over 30 years.
Mr. WILLIAM STEPHENS is a Tea Research Officer with the joint Tanzania Tea Authority, Brooke Bond, ODA Tea Project.