On our IWitness trip to Kenya there was a very special moment every day: drinking tea together. This beautiful ritual makes you feel welcome and creates space for a short chat or a smile. Tea production and the energy it requires were the focus of the project we visited.
Boardroom meeting at the KTDA tea company
The headquarters of the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) sits in the heart of Nairobi. On the first day, we met the management in the boardroom at the top of the building. The view over the bustling capital was impressive! The meeting started with a cup of tea, which created an open atmosphere and made us relax. KTDA is a farmer’s organisation working together with 612,000 farmers whose harvest is processed into tea in 72 factories. KTDA is an important partner of a project managed by Rainforest Alliance that provides an alternative fuel to firewood to the tea sector and to rural households in Kenya. Today, 6 million trees are used to process tea in Kenya. The decreasing forests are a serious threat to the country’s ecosystem and its economy.
Visit to the Mudete tea factory
One of the 72 factories is located near Kisumu, the third biggest city in Kenya. We were given a guided tour of the whole factory and the managers explained how payment scheme for the 12,560 tea growers works. They mentioned that the biggest challenges were rising energy costs and the fact that young people no longer take over their parents’ tea farms. “They find peace in other things,” our host said. What a nice way to express this issue without judging it! Later for tea, my favourite snack was served: cooked sweet potatoes.
Planting trees together
In the afternoon we were invited to a very special event. Together with the local authorities we planted trees at a school. At the beginning we all stood in a circle and introduced ourselves to each other. Then someone was asked to say a prayer. These greetings and prayers are important elements of the local community. Planting a tree in this dignified way was a very formative experience for me.
Insights into briquette production
On day three we celebrated our tea moment in the office of an industrial briquette producer. The office and the factory were minimally equipped, but everything worked fine. The briquettes are made of waste from the sugar industry and intended to be used for tea production. The director proudly explained that he employs 300 women, most of whom are widows, to dry the sugarcane biomass. He could use a drying machine but he prefers to give people work.
Warm welcome at the Household Energy Centre
In order to offer smaller briquettes to rural families and local businesses, the project supports the establishment of Household Energy Centres. They produce briquettes which are then sold by Last Mile Entrepreneurs (LMEs). A very proud man showed us his production site on his farm. He used to sell firewood and is now a local ambassador and producer of briquettes. Together with his family we were drinking porridge – so the last tea moment was actually a “porridge moment”. While chatting with the family, the oldest woman told me with a smile she was 58 years old. She was actually 85 and meeting this beautiful woman was a very special moment for me. I would like to thank Rainforest Alliance Kenya for this very impressive trip and all its unforgettable tea moments. Asante sana – Shukrani – thank you.