New purple tea developed in Kenya
An anthocyanin purple tea variety that could earn farmers three to four times more than green tea has been developed by experts at the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya (TRFK). The new clone, TRFK306/1, is drought and frost resistant, high yielding and will grow in similar weather conditions as the green tea species. The purple species, the first of its kind in Kenya, has taken 25 years to develop. "The reason it has taken us this long is because we have been using old traditional scientific methods of research but we are now moving to more modern methods that will help us come up with new varieties in shorter periods," explains John Wanyoko, TRFK chief research officer.
While purple tea is a first for Kenya, the country is the world's third largest producer of black tea after India and Sri Lanka. But a combination of bad weather, characterised by frequent drought and low prices, have been threatening production. According to Wanyoko, the new variety was developed to diversify the country's tea products and increase farmers' income. "Kenyan tea is sold to the world market in bulk and is used to blend low quality teas from other countries. It fetches low prices resulting in less income for farmers, hence the need to keep developing high value varieties," he says. Researchers at TRFK also hope that with anthocyananin's anti-oxidant properties, TRFK 306/1 will go beyond the traditional uses of tea and penetrate the international health care and pharmaceutical industries.
Currently undergoing "stability, adaptability and uniformity" trials in TRFK's field stations and on select farms owned by smallscale growers, the purple tea is awaiting to be awarded plant breeders rights by government authorities before it can be released for commercial cultivation.
Written by: Maina Waruru
Date published: April 2010
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