The 69 KTDA-managed tea factories have acquired 824 acres for tree plantations in the last two years as they ramp up a programme that will see them become self-sufficient in firewood supply and reduce energy costs.
The acquisitions have pushed the total land holdings for the wood fuel programme to 21,550 acres spread out across the country. Out of these, 16,135 acres have already been planted with trees in various stages of growth while the remaining 5,400 acres are in the process of preparation for planting.
Tea processing requires energy in the form of electric and thermal energy. Thermal energy may be derived from biomass (wood), natural gas, coal, electricity or oil.
“Energy costs comprise up to 25% of the cost of tea production and wood is the cheapest source of energy- up to four times cheaper than oil. Thus, factories use wood in order to save on costs. Planting of trees is meant to provide a sustainable and inexpensive source of wood fuel as well as manage climate change by ensuring constant re-planting/ regeneration of cleared areas,” says Alfred Njagi, Managing Director of Kenya Tea Development Agency Management Services (KTDA-MS).
Factories use wood fuel in boilers to produce steam which is then used in tea driers and withering of green leaf.
The wood fuel programme is a project to ensure all tea factories have commercially and environmentally sustainable sources of firewood.
During long rains, the factories also donate tree seedlings for planting to nearby primary and college schools, colleges and the surrounding communities. In 2019, KTDA-managed factories across tea catchment areas donated over 10 million seedlings, comprising fruit trees and tree seedlings, to help restore forest cover.
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“The planting and logging of trees also provides employment to local youth, in addition to opportunities in the value chain, including treatment and transport of the trees to the factories,” adds Mr Njagi.
KTDA started the wood fuel project in 2001 and has been accelerating the programme especially since 2018 when the government issued restrictions on logging. The factories have also embarked on the use of industrial briquettes as alternative energy sources to reduce overreliance on wood fuel for thermal energy.