The Plight of the Tea Farmer

The Plight of the Tea Farmer

 

“Plight” – a dangerous, difficult, or otherwise unfortunate situation.

 

The situation for the Kenyan tea farmer is not a pleasant one. Because of the current system, and reasons beyond the farmers’ control, many things have gone unchanged since colonial days.

 

Let’s discuss.

 

Most tea farmers only own 1 or 2 acres of tea plants. Once the bushes mature, the farmers pluck the leaves, and sell them to the factories by the kilo (at pennies per kilo, but more on that later). The factories then process the leaves in big, angry machines that spit out ground-up black tea, and a whole lot of pollution (most factories run on wood-fire furnaces). This tea is then auctioned off at the Mombasa tea auction, and sent all over the world.

 

Now to the problems.

 

As mentioned, the farmers are paid pennies for their hard labour. The leaves are weighed, and the weight is recorded, but often, the factory pick-up trucks are (“accidentally”) a few hours late, and while the farmers wait, the leaves lose moisture, and therefore weight, and therefore value.

 

Often, if there are a few leaves that aren’t up to standard, the factory collectors won’t accept the leaves, or will bring them back and refuse payment.

 

 With tea in Kenya, there is a very delicate balance between supply and demand. Growing conditions, transport/management costs, and demand from foreign buyers are just a few of the major factors which are out of the control of the farmers. 2013 was a very rainy year in Kenya, which led to a high yield, but civil unrest in the Middle East and Egypt led to a greatly diminished demand. Too much tea, not enough cups. The farmers were the ones who paid.

 

The dry season generally lasts from January to mid-March. During this period, everything dries up, and crops stop growing. Every year, the effects are felt across the nation. There are food and water shortages, and little to no income for farmers who depend on their crops. For many, the only hope for survival is any food/money they have been able to save over the wet months. But, like 2014, if the wet months aren’t wet, and the plants aren’t growing, many farmers and their families are left in dire circumstances.

 

With so little income, many farmers are forced to take out loans from banks or local lenders. Many of the banks, however, charge up to 20% interest, leaving farmers in extreme, and ever-growing debt.

 

The most important thing to realize is that these are not statistics, these are people. They are people like you and me who have been taken advantage of, and who deserve better options than what they currently have. JusTea is here to create those possibilities, and every time you purchase tea, or tell a friend about us, you are helping us reach more and more people. Together, one farm at a time, we can change the Kenyan tea industry for the better. Drink JusTea, and be a part of our story.

 

Asante sana. Thank you.

 

-Daniel White