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Factory beats climate change with trees and briquettes

Friday February 19 2016

Women pack tea leaves at Makomboki Tea Factory

Women pack tea leaves at Makomboki Tea Factory in Muranga. PHOTO | EUNICE KILONZO 

EUNICE KILONZO
By EUNICE KILONZO
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Makomboki Tea Factory sits on a hill in Murang’a South, surrounded by tens of trees and a vast tea plantation making the air feel lighter and fresher.
The trees not only purify the air at the factory, but they also come in handy when frost falls.

The factory’s field services coordinator Maina Chiuri says they planted the trees following a series of frost in January 2013 that destroyed their tea plantation.

“We lost nearly 60 per cent of our crop that time. It became apparent that we were to change or continue incurring losses. We also saw it prudent that we train and sensitise farmers on climate change through our Farmers Field School,” said Chiuri.

Lessons at the school include planting trees amidst tea. According to Chiuri, when frost comes, it rests on the trees instead of the tea leaves.

This is information that Christine Nekesa, 36, a casual tea-picker in Gatura, Nyeri County a few kilometres from Makomboki factory wishes she knew earlier.

Besides destroying tea, the frost made it difficult for tea pluckers to do their work, eating into their earnings.

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“Initially, I would pick up to five baskets of tea but with the frost, only two or three because we had to wait until it melts away,” said Christine who has been doing the work for five years.

The frost cut her earnings drastically. When there is no frost, she would get Sh100 per 10kg of tea picked, making about Sh500 a day.
However, the frost and the erratic weather made her earnings drop to up to Sh200.

Chiuri noted that the impacts of climate change are real and farmers are among the most affected.

LEADING TO DESERTIFICATION

The factory has further switched to briquettes, a greener, cheaper fuel made of biomass by-products that would otherwise be treated as waste.

Anne Magenyi, Makomboki’s Production Assistant, said they used to use nearly 62,000 trees annually in their boilers sourced from Masinga in Machakos County.

The area under tea is 1,742 hectares with a total of 16,389,667 tea bushes.

“We process at least 25 million green leaf into tea and we need fuel (wood logs) for our boilers to heat the tea leaves,” she says.
“This was leading to desertification and the release of carbon in the atmosphere. However, from December 2014, we switched to briquettes.”
The factory makes the fuel from sawdust, rice husks, macadamia and cashew nut waste.

“This has saved us money and conserved trees that we would otherwise have chopped down.”
The factory used to spend Sh55 million on firewood annually, but the use of briquettes has cut the energy bill by almost half.

What is more, it has won them an award from the Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Authority, for its best practices on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Estherine Fotabong, the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) Director of Programme Implementation and Coordination, says the COP21 agreement recently reached in France doesn’t directly deal with agriculture.

However, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS) such as climate-smart agriculture which Kenya presented are critical in contributing to emission cuts.

Agriculture accounts for about 14 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Fotabong added that INDCS are “an insurance to the decisions that came from Paris”.

While reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector, the approach also addresses food security and climate change, sustainably increasing agricultural productivity.

Kenya has a Climate Smart Agriculture Framework Programme, which seeks to promote best practices in agriculture.