Small-scale tea producers have been urged to diversify and add value to their crop to enhance their earnings, which remain low despite rising prices on the global market.
Farmers in Honde Valley were down to just one processor, Eastern Highlands Plantations, as the rest in the area have closed shop owing to a difficult operating environment brought about by economic challenges, and that factory has been closed for maintenance during the past three months, leaving more than 1 000 farmers stranded with nowhere to sell their tea.
The farmers said instead of opening on September 1 as promised, there is talk that the factory might even delay opening its doors by another week.
That delay and the fact that when they eventually start selling their crop, they will be getting only $2.90 a kilogramme means most farmers will incur heavy losses.
The new price is a minor increase from the $1.86 they were getting at the end of May, when the factory closed.
But the price is way lower than the $127 processed tea is fetching on the market.
Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union tea commodity chairman Mr Charles Sanhanga, who is also a member of the Honde Valley Tea Growers Association, said farmers can no longer just rely on producing tea to sell to big processors while they languish in poverty.
“Since the factory closed in June, we have received good rains and our crop is doing well. We have been preparing our crop for the resumption of marketing, but to be honest, the new price is not encouraging. Since we have not sold any tea for three months, farmers are struggling,” he said.
“But even though tea is the major source of income for us, only those that are growing other crops as alternative sources of income are safe. It is a good thing that Honde Valley is suitable for many other crops such as banana, ginger, fruits and sugar cane and some tea producers have diversified.”
He said diversification would not only grow the farmers’ income base, but also improve the areas’ economic prospects.
With a wider income base, farmers might be able to venture into value addition of their crop as well. Mr Sanhanga said farmers had been seeking funding to purchase machinery that would help them add value to their crop.
He said the processing machines would allow them to beat the price gap and also enable them to directly access the local and foreign markets where the value for their tea is higher.
“The tea crop is one of the foreign currency earners for the country, hence the need for equal attention. Results indicate that small holder farmers produce a high quality crop when compared to commercial production due to level of management and the use of mechanical harvesters versus use of hands. If we get assistance from the Government and other partners, we can start reaping benefits of processing our own tea sooner,” said Mr Sanhanga.–herald.co.zw