In some situations, time becomes relative. Like on a 29 hour bus journey from Kigali (Rwanda) to Nairobi (Kenya), immediately followed by Round 2 to Mombasa, lasting another 12 hours the next day.
We decided to travel to Kenya the FRANK way; which meant enjoying the comforts of a red-velvet bus from the 60s (which surely was once used as a driving theatre), pothole after pothole, way too few toilet breaks and grilled meat on sticks and bananas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, it certainly was more entertaining than taking the 50min flight, as tea field after tea field rolled past our windows, with the occasional zebra thrown into the mix.
Besides exploring the vibrating entrepreneur scene in bustling, cosmopolitan Nairobi, Kenya is a very important player in the global tea industry, and our tea journey through East Africa wouldn’t be complete without witnessing things first-hand from within the dragon’s den.
Kenya is not only the largest exporter of tea in Africa, the tea auction where the bulk of all African tea is traded every week is based in Mombasa. Mombasa is the main port of Kenya and simultaneously the largest trading centre for black CTC tea in the world.
Tea that is not sold directly, is auctioned off in Mombasa and assessed on quality. Mondays are reserved for the secondary grades tea, Tuesdays for the primary grades. Large multinationals (think Unilever, Twinings or Pickwick) often have their own brokers present at the auction who buy the tea in large quantities. However, prices are often determined beforehand and it appears that the auction has become a mere formality in many cases. Nevertheless, the tea auction has a major impact on global tea prices and indirectly influences the livelihood of tea farmers around the world.
The price mechanism in the tea industry is slightly complicated, however in a nutshell, the farmers receive a fixed % of the final tea price (the average of the price the tea sells for at the tea auction or through direct sales). That % is currently too low at 29% (which translates to roughly 0,16€ in 2015), but there is hope on the horizon! Nationwide negotiations have taken place back in Rwanda last month to significantly raise the price paid to farmers. This was a crucial step to ensure the future of the tea industry, raise quality standards and encourage young people to take up tea farming as a profession.
Kenya introduced FRANK to the beating heart of the great continent’s tea trade, and the country has taught us many things. The tea industry is a well-oiled engine and it certainly won’t be easy for FRANK to do things his way. One thing is for sure though, innovation is much needed in what can be considered, an out-dated industry, and we will do our utter best to shake things up a little.
Keep it FRANK,
Valerie & David