What you need to know:
- Researchers conclude that green tea has natural healthy components and mineral elements such as zinc and selenium. It is also loaded with amino acids and vitamins which reduce cholesterol and soften blood vessels.
Uganda’s scientists say they have found a way to make tea farming more lucrative – a breakthrough that could help reduce the country’s overreliance on imported specialty teas and raw exports.
During the Seeds of Gold Farm Clinic at Rwebitaba ZARDI in Fort Portal City, tea research officer Ronald Kawooya explained that by encouraging farmers to add value to their tea harvests, they can enable farmers to fetch more money from their gardens.
According to the team, selling green tea is one of the most important innovations that can turn around the farmers’ fortunes.
Kawooya explains that green tea goes through a simple process although it is slow and labour-intensive. However, the scientists say such barriers can be overcome with significant financial gains.
First of all, a farmer should harvest only the fresh flush of the bud. He explains that after careful harvesting, the next step is to steam the leaves for about one to two minutes to enable wilting.
“But one should be careful not to cook the leaves,” he cautions.
After steaming, the leaves are shaped by rolling them manually into the palms of the hands to work them into tubular shapes. The leaves should then be oxidised before drying. He cautions against burning.
“Green tea can be prepared at home,” Kawooya said.
Riding the tide
Researchers conclude that green tea has natural healthy components and mineral elements such as zinc and selenium. It is also loaded with amino acids and vitamins which reduce cholesterol and soften blood vessels.
Regular drinking of green tea is recommended in reducing body fats and controlling blood pressure and easing stress while it promotes digestion.
This growing obsession however has seen more green tea imports from other parts of the world especially China and Kenya. Worse still, herbalists have started producing products they claim are green tea which they sell to unsuspecting buyers.
“We realised that these people are relying on consumers’ ignorance to make money,” Kawooya says.
He observes that the hygiene and efficiency would make farmers make a killing even before production is taken to an industrial scale.
He suggests starting from women groups or taking up the idea with cottage industries.
Uganda currently exports tea exports earning more than $104m in revenue. But the country does not produce enough value added products to support the tea growing industry which supports more than 500,000 people in the value chain.
The dependence on imported value-added products has become a threat to the country’s tea sector.
A kilogramme of harvested tea leaves is bought at Shs320 at the factory. When you subtract Shs100 for pluckers and the inputs, tea growing is not a lucrative venture for the farmers.
“This is why tea product diversification is important to us as researchers because everyone is concentrating on black tea. If people continue selling black tea, they will get demoralised. Therefore producing specialty teas for niche markets can help the industry,” Kawooya says.
Kawooya says that the achievement would transform the traditional production of tea where most farmers sell the leaves for black team manufacturing.
“If farmers apply this technology, it will be a revolution that can effectively improve tea farmers with remarkable economic benefits,” he said.
At research level, the scientists have successfully carried out trials concluding that a 100g pack of green tea can cost about Shs10,000 yet an equivalent of black tea is Shs3,000.
Kawooya argues that to produce black tea, one needs a billion shillings factory yet with green tea, farmers can process speciality tea at home.
Rwebitaba ZARDI has successfully developed black tea bags specifically blended from tea clone 303/577 that has a fresh taste.
They also have a green tea beverage which has numerous health benefits as it has proteins averaging between 15-20 dry weight, whose enzymes constitute an important fraction of amino acids such as thiamine
To add more value, the scientists have processed tea oil from tea seeds for cooking. Kawooya says it does not contain cholesterol as it has a low level of saturated oils.
“This is an important development for us as it can ably help reduce overreliance on refined oils,” he says.
As a speciality product, world class green tea is produced from particular varieties. Yet since tea growing was introduced in Uganda, no new varieties have been developed.
Five varieties that were developed in the 1950s are grown in the country but the changing weather and growing practices have led to build-up of numerous pests and diseases.
According to Venansio Tumwine, a crop entomologist at Rwebitaba ZARDI, tea farmers are disturbed by pests especially mites, thrips, termites and scales which can cause losses of up to 50 per cent in severe cases. Pest infestation directly affects the quality of processed tea and flavour.
The experts teach farmers various management practices such as use of clean planning materials, regular pruning and use of pesticides among others.
There are also field production constraints especially diseases such as the non-selective xylleria which dries plants gradually by destroying the root system. When the plant dries, the farmers get gaps in the field. An acre is normally planted with 11,000 plants. Other major diseases are grey leaf spot and brown leaf spot.
According to Kawooya, most of these challenges can be eliminated by developing more resistant clones.
The plummeting tea prices and the unstable market globally for the traditionally grown green tea, has seen farmers embrace value addition.
The green tea is known for its un paralled health attributes, which has attracted a fanatical uptake and demand across the world. Nelson Mugisha a farmer in Kabarole District has been a tea farmer for more than two decades. According to him, the prices last year have been so low that he has been left with almost no profit at all. To survive, he said, he needs to diversify by processing tea.