KENYA – Kenya’s tea industry is reported to be losing about US$2 million every week at the tea auction in Mombasa because of insecurity in growing zones that has led to the suspension of operations by key producers.

At least 10 tea-plucking machines have been torched in multiple flashpoints in the past year, according to local media reports. Recent demonstrations have left one protester dead and several injured, including 23 police officers and farm workers.

The Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) estimated the cost of damaged machinery at $1.2 million (170 million Kenyan shillings) after nine machines belonging to Ekaterra, makers of the top-selling tea brand Lipton, were destroyed in May.

In March, a local government taskforce recommended that tea companies in Kericho, the country’s largest tea-growing town, adopt a new 60:40 ratio of mechanized tea harvesting to hand-plucking.

The task force also wants legislation passed to limit the importation of tea harvesting machines. Nicholas Kirui, a member of the task force and former CEO of KTGA, told Semafor Africa 30,000 jobs had been lost to mechanization in Kericho county alone over the past decade.

This comes in on the heels of Tanzania signaling its intention to switch the market platform for its teas from the Mombasa auction to Dar es Salaam, right after Sri Lankan Browns Investments Plc agreed to buy Finlay Kenya’s tea estates business, James Finlay Kenya.

Finlay Kenya observers, worried about the future of the crop and lept for an 85% divestment of the business to the Sri Lankan company.

The report also follows details that the tea export has also dropped 26 percent in the first quarter of the year, taking a hit from the civil unrest in Sudan.

Sudan, which is among the top five export destinations for Kenyan tea, has already seen the volumes shipped to the destination decline by 59 percent, with traders projecting fewer imports by Khartoum in the coming months should the civil strife continue.

The Tea Board of Kenya says the total volumes exported in the review period was 99.8 million kilograms, a drop from the 135 million kilos recorded in the corresponding period last year.

“Lower export volumes were due to fewer imports by Pakistan, Egypt, and Sudan owing to challenges of forex reserves affecting these markets,” said the directorate.

The situation in the Sudan market has compounded the problems facing Kenya’s tea export to leading destinations, which has suffered a huge impact on the back of a shortage of forex reserves in Pakistan and Egypt — Kenya’s main buyers.

“The war has had a huge impact on the teas that we sell to Sudan, and it has significantly reduced the volumes,” said Peter Kimanga, a Mombasa-based tea trader with Global Tea Commodities.

For all the latest food industry news from Africa and the World, subscribe to our NEWSLETTER, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel.