Tea is the leading export commodity in the country in terms of foreign exchange generation, accounting for almost 20% of total export earnings. Tea industry is a major source of employment with over 2 million people in direct tea farming, manufacturing, marketing and indirectly in retail outlets and transportation.
Tea production declined by 10.3 per cent from 445.1 thousand tonnes in 2014 to 399.1 thousand tonnes in 2015. This was a result of the dry weather witnessed in the first quarter of the year between December 2014- May 2015.
Despite the drop in production, export earnings have grown. During the period under review, the value of tea increased by 39.5 per cent to KSh 118.4 billion in 2015, as a result of improved international prices. This became the highest export earning ever, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and food Authority (AFFA)
Small-scale tea growers, estimated at 300,000, process and market their tea through 54 tea factories under the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), while large scale tea growers (tea estates) process and market their tea through 38 tea factories operated on individual private basis. In 2015, small-scale farmers produced 60 per cent of the total output, which stood at 237.6 million kilogrammes.
Kenya is one of the largest producers of black tea in the world. Kenya's tea is grown in the highlands, west and east of the rift valley. The cool temperatures, abundant rain and rich fertile soils guarantee high quality tea which has over the years earned Kenya premium prices at the auctions. Kenya's tea is marketed through the auctions.
Mombasa tea auction is the largest in the world. A small percentage of exported tea is sold directly to buyers. Kenya's tea is manufactured under CTC (crush, tear, curl) method which guarantees high cuppage. Kenya has over the years re-affirmed its position as the world's biggest exporter and producer of high quality black tea.
During harvesting, great care is taken to ensure good quality. Two leaves and a bud are plucked during harvesting to ensure good quality tea. This is one of the most important quality control measures which even the smallest tea farmer is well conversant with.
In 2014-2015 Kenyan tea found its way into 68 markets internationally. The major export markets for Kenya's tea in order of size are Pakistan, Egypt, UK,Afghamistan, UAE, Sudan, Yemen, Russia, Kazakhstan, U.S.A. and Canada among others.
Kenya's tea is available in two forms namely packed and bulk tea. Kenya's tea is known for its unique high quality and is used to blend other low quality teas from other countries.
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In recent years, contribution of coffee to the economy in terms of foreign exchange earnings and employment has been steadily declining. In 2015 coffee production decreased by 16.0 per cent from 49.5 thousand tonnes in the year 2013/14 to 41.6 thousand tonnes in 2014/15. Production by estates has exhibited downward trend since 2011/12 as compared to that of cooperatives, which recorded a mixed performance. The decrease in production during the review period was mainly as a result of high cost of labour, escalating cost of farm inputs and poor cooperate governance at grower institutions. The average yield for estates and cooperatives declined by 13.3 per cent and 17.2 per cent to 589.5 Kg per hectare and 317.0 Kg per hectare, respectively, in 2014/15.
Kenya produces approximately 2.5% of the world's total production and commands a market share of over 3% of the global coffee trade.
Kenya's coffee is of the species Arabica, which is a high quality mild coffee favored for blending the more common coffee of other origins. The uniqueness of Kenya's coffee stems from the rich volcanic soils on which it is grown, pleasant climate, good plant breeds and the meticulous attention given by farmers.
Kenya's coffee is handpicked, graded, wet processed and sun dried before milling and grade as per sizes. The resultant green coffee beans are ceremoniously roasted to produce a pleasant aroma and ground ready for the brew.
Kenya's coffee is marketed through the auction at Nairobi. Recently Coffee Board of Kenya opened a Coffee Stock Market in Nairobi. Part of the production is marketed through private treaty with buyers.
The major export markets for Kenya's coffee are Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Netherlands, UK, Finland, USA and Saudi Arabia.
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Pyrethrum is an important crop in Kenya's economy for it offers livelihood to approximately 200,000 households with one million individuals. It is a major foreign exchange earner for the country ranking fifth after tea, horticulture, tourism and coffee.
For over 60 years, Kenya has been the leading world producer of natural pyrethrum whereby the country produces between 65% and 75% of all pyrethrum traded in the world in any given year.
Pyrethrum Board of Kenya (PBK) has the monopoly of buying dry pyrethrum flowers from the farmers, processing the flowers and marketing the processed pyrethrum products.
The local market consumes about 5% of the national pyrethrum production while 95% is usually exported to North America and Western Europe.
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The horticulture sub sector has expanded rapidly in the last two decades largely due to the involvement of the dynamic private sector supported by appropriate government policies.
The sub sector has grown in the last 20 years and has overtaken coffee to become the second most important foreign exchange earner in the agricultural sector after tea.
The sub sector has continued to attract and create employment on farms and related agro-industries, hence improving rural incomes.
The total volume of fresh horticultural exports increased by 8.4 per cent from 220.2 thousand tonnes in 2014 to 238.7 thousand tonnes in 2015. The increase may be explained by exports of fresh fruit which rose by 31.6 per cent to 46.2 thousand tonnes. Cut flower exports recorded a decelerated growth of 7.0 per cent in volume during the period under review compared to the 8.7 per cent growth recorded in 2014. Earnings from cut flowers, mainly exported to the European Union through the Netherlands, have maintained an upward trend since 2013 increasing by 5.0 per cent to KSh 62.9 billion in 2015. The volume of vegetable exports declined for the second year running partly due to delays in signing the Economic Partnership Agreement and stringent checks for pesticide levels. However, vegetable export earnings increased from KSh 18.8 billion in 2014 to KSh 20.9 billion in 2015.
Due to the diversity of the agro-ecological zones, a wide variety of horticultural products is grown in Kenya, key among them being:
Cut flowers and cut foliage: e.g. roses, carnations, statice, alstroemeria, tuberose, arabicums, eryngiums etc.
Tropical Fruits: namely, mangoes, pineapples, passion fruits, avocados, bananas, strawberries, tamarillo etc.
Vegetables: such as french beans, brinjals, capsicums, cucumber, asparagus, chilies, courgettes, cauliflower, baby corn etc.
A wide range of Asian or oriental vegetables e.g. okra, bittergourd etc.
World class standards of production are observed and the boards have codes of conduct for their members to regulate production practices to ensure proper use of the chemical to safeguard the consumer, the environment and the health of the workers.