NAEB reassures on quality as China rejects tea from Kenya

The National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB) has reassured tea farmers, dealers and buyers on the quality of the country’s tea exports.This follows rejection of some of Kenya’s tea by China due to high levels of fluoride in the leaves.
Workers pick tea leaves in one of the country’s plantations. The National Agricultural Export Board has put 
in place mechanisms to control quality along the tea value chain. (File)
Workers pick tea leaves in one of the country’s plantations. The National Agricultural Export Board has put in place mechanisms to control quality along the tea value chain. (File)

The National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB) has reassured tea farmers, dealers and buyers on the quality of the country’s tea exports.

This follows rejection of some of Kenya’s tea by China due to high levels of fluoride in the leaves.

Fluoride is a mineral that is absorbed by plants from soil and water. Sometimes, it is caused by intensive use of pesticides.

However, the head of tea division at NAEB, Corneille Ntakirutimana, said there is no cause for alarm, noting that Rwanda uses proper crop husbandry practices to ensure quality along the tea value chain.

He said the export board is working with tea farmers and processors to ensure that they adhere to quality standards.

“The challenge that Kenya is facing will not in any way affect Rwandan tea exports because we don’t use similar farming practices nor is the topography similar. So, there is no cause for alarm,” Ntakirutimana told The New Times.

It is estimated that up to 98 per cent of the fluoride content in tea trees is deposited in its leaves, particularly the old ones, thus affecting quality.

Tea  is Rwanda’s second-largest export product after coffee.

Last year, Rwanda exported about 23 metric tonnes of tea to China, according to Ntakirutimana.

The country’s other markets include, the US, Canada, South Korea, Europe and the Middle East. 

Dr Ndambe Nzaramba, the NAEB deputy director general for exports and market operations, said Rwanda should take the challenge Kenya is facing as an opportunity to increase presence in Asian markets, including China.

He said NAEB is working to consolidate the existing markets as it searches for other sustainable markets.

It should be noted that China is the largest tea producer in the world, making it a challenge to penetrate this particular market.

Kenya’s tea board, however, said the problem came about after China introduced a new standard in the recent past. Most Kenyan tea is grown in Rift Valley, a region where soils tend to have high fluoride content.

Meanwhile, Ntakirutimana has said prices for tea are currently stable compared to 2013 when they reached a low of $2.28 per kilogramme.

He said tea currently costs $2.6 per kilo on the global market as of January this year, and prices are expected to increase.

Dangers of high levels of fluoride in tea

Experts have discovered that tea drinks made with lower quality older leaves, contain high levels of fluoride.

It was found that individuals who drink large amounts of tea can develop skeletal fluorosis - a painful bone disease caused by excessive fluoride intake.

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