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Zambia: Resuscitated Kawambwa Tea Helping Spur Economy

THE revival of the once defunct Kawambwa Tea Company is helping the country become self-sufficient in tea beverages while creating the much needed economic survival of the rural Kawambwa communities.

Tea, like coffee, can play a huge role in rural industrialisation and spurring incomes in rural parts of the country as it helps the country reach import substitution.

Kawambwa and other areas in the country have a favourable environment for growing tea varieties for both local consumption and the export market.

In the past few years, the country has been importing tea due to lack of a local processing company following the collapse of the local tea producing company.

Kawambwa Tea Industries Limited is becoming Zambia’s major commercial tea producer and the narrative is slowly changing for the better.

The government established the tea company for the purposes of promoting self-reliance through import substitution, enhancing food security, creating employment opportunities for the surrounding communities, supporting poverty reduction initiatives, and accelerating social infrastructure development.

The company which was formally called Kawambwa Tea Company since its inception passed through different ownership.

Since its establishment more than 50 years ago, the company has been in the hands of different owners leading to its total collapse until 2016.

The company started as a government tea-growing project in 1969 in Kawambwa District, Luanpula Province and was later commercialised as a state company in 1975 while the tea processing factory was commissioned in 1976.

The company was later privatised and sold to a Zimbabwean firm Khumul Holdings which took over until 2016 when the government signed an acquisition order to repossess it.

The collapse of the sole tea producer in the country led the country to start importing all its tea and related requirements.

Following the acquisition of the company, the government handed over the management of the plantation to the Zambia Forest and Forestry Industries Corporation (ZAFFICO) and the recapitalisation of the company to the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

In 2019, a team of government officials and ZAFFICO staff were sent to Kenya to learn the value chain and out-grower model best practices from Africa’s biggest tea producer.

According to some research, the tea industry in Kenya accounts for four per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), creating more than 10 million jobs with tea fields sitting on more than 220,000 hectares of land.

There are more than 700,000 out-grower farmers who own tea farms ranging from one to more than 50 hectares in 21 counties of Kenya.

Following the visit to that country, ZAFFICO imported 300,000 tea cuttings from there which are now nurturing the mother bushes for the Kawambwa Tea project.

The tea cuttings consisted of 10 species procured from the Tea Research Institute of Kenya with a variety of green, yellow and purple tea among others.

The tea cuttings necessary to cater for 1,000 hectares of trees were planted on 20 hectares of land.

The IDC has recapitalised the tea company and has managed to move it to a profit making position investing in plantation expansion, a robust irrigation system and processing factory.

The Kawambwa tea plantation now has 1,500 hectares of tea estate comprising 423 hectares of five tea varieties.

It now processes 30 tonnes of tea per day and has employed more than 650 permanent seasonal staff.

The company passed through a lot of transformation and today, it contributes to the economic growth and job creation of the country.

Following this transformation, the local brand is back on the market and the company has positioned itself to meet the demand of both the local and international market.

According to IDC, the local brand has hit the local retail market and is available in most of the chain store stores including Shoprite outlets across the country.

The company is now producing an array of tea varieties such as ginger tea, lemon tea, eucalyptus tea and cinnamon tea.

IDC acting chief portfolio officer Chimuka Nketani says Kawambwa Tea Industries has transformed and diversified to processing a variety of tea unlike the bulk tea it was solely processing previously.

Mr Nketani says the Kawambwa tea brand is now available on the retail market, chain stores and supermarkets around the country.

“Kawambwa tea is back on the market, it is back on the stage. It is a brand which every Zambian needs to have in the house and it is a brand which we need to promote and take pride in because it is our own local brand,” he said.

He says the IDC has transformed Kawambwa tea from its loss-making era to profit making.

Mr Nketani says the IDC had invested in a modern irrigation system which had enabled the company to irrigate its tea plantation throughout the year.

On top of that, the company has introduced envelope tea bags to cater for the hospitality industry.

According to Mr Nketani, the envelope tea bags have since received good reviews from the local hospitality industry.

Company general manager Moses Silanda says due to the overwhelming reviews the envelope tea bags was receiving from hotels, the company has positioned itself to meet the demand and supply.

“We have these envelope tea bags we have introduced and supplied to hotels. All the reviews we have received are good and hotels are recommending our products. We are doing everything possible to cater for the demand and needs for this industry,” he said.

He says apart from the envelop tea, the company has introduced different flavoured tea varieties to respond to the needs of consumers

Mr Silanda says the company has introduced cinnamon tea, ginger tea, lemon tea and garlic tea.

He says the company is currently selling bulk tea to both local and international markets.

To support the tea company and ensure that it meets its processing capacity and the demand for tea, farmers in Kawambwa have formed an out-grower association.