Tea Association of Malawi (Taml), a grouping of large tea estates, sent a team of senior executives and engineers to Kenya tea production plants recently to identify alternative and more efficient sources of energy.
“This initiative comes in the wake of spiraling cost of energy the Malawi tea industry is experiencing which is seriously eroding our competitiveness on the global market, as cost of production rises,” said Taml chief executive officer Clement Thindwa, in an interview last week.
Apart from energy cost, he said the local tea industry faces a number of disadvantages when it comes to producing and marketing its tea such as inland transportation to ports, ageing and shortage of plucking labour.
Thindwa, who led the delegation, said lower production cost and high tea quality have been some of the major competitive advantages the local tea industry has enjoyed over the years.
“Therefore, high and rising energy cost actually significantly erodes this advantage and threatens the sustainability of our operations,” he said.
Malawi is the second largest producer of tea in Africa after Kenya and the industry is the largest formal private sector employer with an average of over 50 000 employees at a given time.
The tea industry is one of the country’s major foreign exchange earners.
The Malawi delegation visited Kenyan tea operations in Nairobi, the hub of tea production in Kericho region and factories owned and run by James Finlay and Kenya Tea Development Agency.