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March 31, 2010

Kenyan scientists launch clones to boost tea output

by Stella Cherono and Benedict Tirop

The Kenya Tea Research Foundation (TRF) has launched two new clones that yield at least 50 per cent more leaf output than the varieties in the market.

The clones, TRFK 430/90 and TRFK 371/3, are a product of 16 years of research and could replace the widely grown TRFK 31/8 variety.

TRF CEO, Dr Francis Wachira, said the foundation was about to release a purple coloured tea clone - TRFK 306/1 - to the market.

Dr Wachira said the clone was rich in a pigment called anthocyanin that was widely found in berries such as grapes used for making red wine.

The clone is being processed under pilot at Kangaita Factory.

“The clone is currently in its final phases of evaluation and will soon be submitted to the ministry for release,” Agriculture minister William Ruto said.

The product is being marketed outside the country at a price of $30 per kg which is about Sh2,250.

The marketing will be propped up by a study on health benefits of Kenyan tea expected to unleash a scientific weapon in promoting tea drinking locally and selling the product abroad.

“Such information is helpful to market Kenyan tea products,” Dr Wachira said, adding that the studies so far show.

Kenyan tea has comparatively higher levels of anti oxidants than that from other parts of the world.

In Japan, anti oxidants have been used to expand the market for tea which is now being used as an ingredient in the manufacture of different types of fast moving consumer goods including soaps, shampoos and detergents.

Dr Wachira said the tea was also found to have anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic properties.

It was also able to protect the liver from damage during disease.

Researchers say Kenyan tea has gained a reputation for distinct quality mainly because they are consistently bright, strong and brisk all year round, are rich in anti oxidants and are pesticide resistant.

Despite these qualities, existing marketing channels have failed to reap premium prices for tea which is grown up to 70 per cent by small scale farmers.

The clones which have been released for commercial exploitation produce better black tea quality than existing high black tea quality clones and may be used for processing of green tea.

Further, the Kericho based facility is researching on low caffeine or caffeine-free tea clones that would target production of caffeine-free products.

Progress has also been made in the development of tea clones with unique biochemical profiles such as high levels of polyphenols. Cathechins are clones with a mild coffee aroma.

The CEO said the varieties will in future provide raw materials for production of diversified tea products.

Research is now geared to development of clones that are high in polyphenols for the extraction of biochemicals rather than for the processing of tea.

TRFK has also generated valuable information indicating that some tea clones have high levels of desirable flavours.

“Kenyan tea factories will manufacture more flavoured and anti oxidant rich tea, which may stimulate more demand for local tea at remunerative prices,” the chairman of the board Mr Stanley Chepkwony said.

A method for processing anti oxidant rich tea targeted at the more conscious tea consumers is already in place.

Tea from different geographical zones is being profiled to establish whether geographical indications could be applied in tea marketing.

Business Daily Africa

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