What’s brewing in tea supply chains in Kenya?

Companies often have limited visibility over tea supply chains, which makes it challenging to prevent crop diseases or allocate resources effectively.

By Amy Barthorpe, Head of Business Development

Do you source tea from Kenya? Not surprising, as Kenya is the largest producer of tea in Africa, and the fourth largest producer in the world (behind India, China and Sri Lanka)!

For all tea businesses, sourcing tea from farmers in remote locations comes with a significant challenge: limited visibility over tea supply chains. Because of the isolated locations of many tea plantations, many tea famers do not have internet access so there is no easy way to gain insight over what is happening at the producer level.

Limited visibility like this means it is difficult to forecast accurately and allocate resources effectively.

Indeed, the majority of small-scale farmers in the world are not connected to the internet. Many behemoth tech businesses are beginning to tackle this issue (Facebook’s internet.org and Google’s Project Skybender are good examples) but until they succeed, tea companies still face these questions…

How do you gather information on populations that do not use the internet? Or how do you gain visibility over the unconnected parts of your supply chains? How do you collect actionable information in a cheap and efficient way?

This blog is going to look at how you can collect data on tea supply chains in Kenya – without the internet.

Gathering data on tea supply chains in Kenya

The rapid spread of technology through developing countries has created new opportunities for people to access vital services, and in the process, creates an opportunity to collect data. M-Pesa, a mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service, is a great example – people across Kenya can now transfer money and access financial services straight from their mobile phones.

With people accessing services like this through SMS businesses can now gather data on people who are not connected to the internet.

WeFarm is one of those businesses. Our peer-to-peer network for small-scale farmers is available via SMS. With over 63,000 farmers across Kenya, Uganda and Peru, we have a huge opportunity to collect unique data on tea supply chains in Kenya, as well as other crops.

In just one year, there have been more than 9 million interactions through our service, giving us unique data and insight on the real challenges faced by smallholder farmers. SMS is a great way to collect data that can provide value to tea businesses.

Analysing data on tea supply chains in Kenya

Recently we analysed the trends in tea supply chains in Kenya from organic data generated by our farmer interactions. Our study analysed tens of thousands of SMS messages exchanged throughout January by 1,000 Kenyan tea farmers through WeFarm.

We found that the top concerns amongst tea farmers had a focus on fertilisation including where to purchase fertiliser and its correct application. This points to a real need for farmers in tea supply chains in Kenya to have more information on this topic and access to such inputs. With adequate information farmers can effectively apply fertiliser to their tea, increasing yield and improving sustainability in the process.

Insight like this can help tea businesses allocate resources effectively, improve quality and support tea farmers.

Age trends in tea supply chains in Kenya

Another interesting finding during our research was the age of farmers in Kenya growing tea. The age trends for tea farmers show that older farmers are much more likely to grow tea – there were almost twice as many farmers over 65 years old growing tea than under 25 year olds.

This trend has significant implications. The ageing population of tea farmers in tea supply chains in Kenya needs to be effectively managed and monitored in order to ensure security of supply. What can we do to ensure that young farmers are motivated to grow tea, as well as older farmers?

Our analysis of tea supply chains in Kenya revealed some fundamental challenges – and some simple ways to solve them! Farmers in our network are already sharing lots of low-cost innovative solutions, for example, how to create organic manure, techniques to control pests, and intercropping suggestions.

With a new wealth of data being collected through our SMS network for farmers, it is now possible to improve security of supply, increase sustainability, and improve the lives of farmers worldwide. It’s time to start improving tea supply chains in Kenya – with WeFarm you can do so now!

For more information on how your business might benefit from data about tea supply chains (in Kenya, or other countries) please contact Amy on amy@wefarm.org.  

Posted 2 June 2016 | Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,