Kenyan tea sector recovering from searing drought

NAIROBI, Apr.25 (AFP) – Kenya’s tea sector is rebounding from a searing drought, with production of the country’s largest export shooting up 72 percent between February and March, officials said Tuesday.

However, export earnings continue to suffer and the Tea Board of Kenya (TBK) said the huge boost was unlikely to make up for a drought-related shortfall that could see a reduction of up to 16 percent in output this year.

Production skyrocketed from 11.6 million to 19.8 million kilos (25.6 million to 43.6 million pounds) between February and March, “reversing the declining trend that had been experienced since the last quarter of 2005,” it said in a statement.

“Improved output was attributed to favourable weather conditions in tea-growing regions, particularly west of the Rift Valley where production doubled owing to the recovery of withered tea bushes,” TBK chief Phrasia Mwangi said.

At the same time she warned that “the production increase is not likely to offset the shortfall experienced during the first quarter, giving an indication that this years output may drop by 10 to 16 percent compared to last years.”

Production between January and March 2006 lagged behind the output for the same period last year by 35.4 million kilos due to the effects of the drought that were more pronounced during the first two months, TBK said.

With recent rains, however, tea production between April and June is expected to surpass that of the same period last year, it said.

Due to lower production in the first quarter, Kenyan tea exports fell to 150 million dollars (121 million euros) from 152.5 million dollars in the first three months of 2005, the board said.

Kenya sells its tea to 33 countries, with Pakistan maintaining its position as the leading destination, accounting for 32 percent of total exports, with Egypt and Britain in the second and third spots, it said.