Two years after output of the country’s second foreign exchange earner, tea, has been on a downward spiral, production of the crop registered a slight jump in 2017.
Figures Weekend Nation sourced from Limbe Auction Floors on Tuesday show that tea production last year marginally increased to 45.5 million kilograms (kg) from 39.44 million kg and 43.12 million kg recorded in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
The development will be a huge relief to the sector which has seen production falling by about 22 percent due to effects of climate change.
But an expert said on Wednesday production in 2017 was buoyed by the relatively good rains.
“Tea production has been going down since 2009 when we produced about 52 million kg and since then there has been a decline year-in-year-out until last year when we saw that production picked up largely due to the good rains,” he said.
The local tea industry is faced with a number of challenges holding back the industry’s growth potential key among which are low prices, rising production costs lower yielding and old tea bushes that require replanting.
Players in the sector argue that unless Malawi plants better quality and high yielding crop, tea outpour will continue to fail.
The industry analysts say Malawi needs to replant tea with better quality and high yielding varieties as this has a high short-term effect on production as it takes three to five years for the tea bush to come into full production.
The sector also has recovered from intermittent power supply, with over K2.5 billion spent on alternative energy, especially for procurement of generators and diesel in the last two years.
Recently, Tea Association of Malawi chairperson Sangwani Hara told the media that over the past two years, unreliable electricity supply has forced estate owners to spend in excess of $3.5 million (about K2.5 billion) to procure generators and diesel.
But the association maintains that despite these challenges, Malawi tea remains one of the best in the world and that efforts are being made to revitalize the tea industry and enlarge the market base for export.
A recent Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) Economic Review Report for the third quarter of 2017 indicates output in the quarter was at 4.8 million kg which is an increase of 12.1 percent from 5.5 million kg produced in 2016 third quarter.
Prices for the crop averaged $1.91 per kg during the review period, higher than $1.62 per kg fetched in a corresponding period of the preceding year and total realisation from tea sales amounted to $2.3 million during 2017 third quarter.
Tea is Malawi’s second foreign exchange earner after tobacco contributing about 7 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP).