Mulanje-based Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa (TRFCA) has released four new tea cultivars (varieties) for commercial production in the country.
Three of the cultivars are high yielding, high quality and drought tolerant, while the other has been recommended for high rainfall areas or under irrigation.
Speaking during a conference in Mulanje on Thursday, TRFCA director Albert Changaya said the objective for the new technologies is to develop improved, high yielding and high quality cultivars that are drought tolerant and resistant to major pests, diseases and adverse weather conditions such as extreme temperatures.
“We aim to improve productivity and quality of tea and promote its marketability on the international market, sustain production of high quality teas through cost effective tea nutrition management, ensure a sustainable and viable tea industry under the dynamic environment and improve productivity and tea quality through mechanical plucking,” he explained.
During the conference, TRFCA also introduced the use of TwinN in tea as a source of nitrogen.
TwinN is a powdery product that enhances availability of nitrogen to crop plants through the activity of endophytic microorganisms which interact with the plant metabolic system. It also increases root growth to enable the plant to tap deep water, helps to solubilise phosphorous, increases production of photosynthetic sugars and improves plant water use efficiency.
“The cost of fertiliser and transport has continued to sky-rocket over the years and this has sometimes forced growers to buy less fertiliser and thereby reducing nutrients applied per unit area. Reducing the rates of nutrient application can cause serious short and long-term implications on the health and productivity of tea bushes.
“Weakened tea bushes would threaten the viability and sustainability of tea production. In order to counter these challenges, there is need to identify and assess other economically efficient ways of supplying nitrogen to tea plants,” he said.
Changaya bemoaned the lack of government’s commitment towards tea research programmes, saying currently they do not have an extension department which would have been key in imparting skills to stakeholders and farmers alike.
Wilfred Kastom, secretary general of the National Smallholder Tea Development, an umbrella body for smallholder tea farmers, asked government to help small-scale tea farmers to establish their own mini factories.
“We don’t profit from selling to big growers and our cooperatives, trusts and associations are struggling financially. The authorities should also lobby for an increase in the base price on our behalf,” he said.
According to Kastom, a small-scale farmer with an average of 0.5 hectares rakes in between K960 000 (about $2 232) to K1.2 million (about $2 790) per year in tea proceeds.
Tea production in the country currently faces a number of challenges, most of which are a result of climate change taking the form of recurrent droughts, extreme temperatures, increased incidences of pest infestation and changes in rainfall patterns.
Tea requires 50 millilitres of rain per month and temperatures of below 38 degrees Celsius for it to do well.