By Cheranka Mendis
Sri Lanka and Kenya recently compared notes on the thriving tea industry recently when Plantation Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe visited the country for the 56th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference.
The conference, which was held last month, brought forth the chance for the two countries at the forefront of the tea industry to host a number of discussions and visits to auctions and tea factories in Kenya.
Speaking to Daily FT, authorised Tea Board sources stated that the most significant meeting for Samarasinghe took place between the Minister and Agriculture Minister of Kenya Dr. Sally Kosgei.
Sources stated that the two Ministers compared the two systems followed by the two countries. In the note comparison, it was realised that the small holders were the vibrant sectors for the industry with almost 60 per cent of the production coming from them.
Leasing of plantations, value addition to the product and Maximum Residue Level (MRL) were also said to have been discussed in depth.
“Initially the Kenyan Government has given land for tea on a 999 year lease and realised its gravity only later in the day. The period of 999 years was from 1903 to 2003. Upon the end of terms, the period has been brought down to 99 years,” he said.
Comparatively, Sri Lanka is much better off with the 53-year lease for plantation. However, the period might be extended in the near future.
The Kenyan Government has also expressed its delight in the precision of the Sri Lankan tea. With value addition and brand marketing high on the local tea industrialists’ plate, Kenya has articulated its desire to come and learn from Sri Lanka. As at now, 45 per cent of exports of tea are value added products, whereas in Kenya value addition is six per cent.
“They requested our support to uplift their tea industry upon which the Minister invited Dr. Kosegi and her delegation to visit Sri Lanka and to take an educational tour in some of our leading factories,” sources revealed.
On maximum residue levels of tea, where the two countries are considered the top players from the rest of the world, Sri Lanka is far ahead even of Kenya, he further stated.
With the Geographical Indicator Sri Lanka has in place since 2002, the registration of ‘Ceylon Tea,’ ‘Ceylon Sapphires,’ etc., was enabled. Eight years after, last December, ‘Ceylon Tea’ was granted registration. However, in Kenya the Indicator is still not in place and is “struggling at Parliamentary level”. It would take many years for this to be in place, sources said.
Kenya has also been impressed about the mark of origin of Sri Lanka, the lion, which has existed for many years now. Mark of origin for Kenya was only launched on 30 June this year.
Samarasinghe and his delegation had also held discussions with the Tea Board of Kenya and Kenya Tea Development Agency and visited the Mombasa auction in Kenya.
Apart from the tea industry, the two Ministers are also said to have discussed agriculture and horticulture and ways and means to rev up the industries. Discussions also revealed that the coconut industry in Kenya was full of cheap, uninhabited land.
Dr. Kosgei had expressed interest in producing coconuts for the Sri Lankan market, where the production is less that the requirement. She is said to have proposed a joint venture between the countries where they would give free land for coconut cultivation in Sri Lanka if Sri Lanka agreed to buy back the crop production. Samarasinghe too had shown great interest in the matter, sources said.