Poor tea quality and old variety of shrubs are threatening the position of the country as the second major tea producer in Africa after Kenya as new countries are emerging with new varieties and better quality.
Malawi was once Africa’s leading tea producer until the late 1950s when Kenya pushed the country to the second position.
In an interview, Taml chairperson Sangwani Hara said new countries are emerging as tea producers in Africa, making Malawi’s old tea unattractive on the global market.
He mentioned Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Rwanda as emerging big tea producers with their tea fetching higher prices of up to $3 (K2 190) per kilogramme (kg) while Malawi is still struggling to go beyond $2 (K1 466) per kg.
“Our negotiating powers with the buyers are becoming less because new players with good crop are emerging,” he said.
Hara said Malawi needs to uproot the current tea shrubs and plant new varieties if the country is to compete on the continent.
“Uganda is just close to surpassing us as the number two in Africa from Kenya. Rwanda has developed good policy and is making tremendous progress. Tanzania is also emerging as a strong tea producer,” he said.
However, Hara said replanting existent tea shrubs would cost farmers and workers employment and income as it would mean five years before the new crop would be ready for harvest.
“Only 40 percent is new material otherwise the old shrubs are beyond the 50 years life expectancy of tea. Some have overstayed for over 40 years. We need to improve,” he said.
Hara said apart from replanting there is need for the country to increase the number of smallholder farmers unlike the current position where over 85 percent of tea is produced by estates.
“We have enough land in Chikangawa [in Mzimba] as well as Neno which is staying idle. You cannot have trees that you will not harvest in the next 25 years. The best utilisation of land is to plant tea and coffee. We can also try macadamia,” he said.
He said government needs to engage the private sector in Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement to open new tea fields that would be shared with the smallholder farmers.