Tate and Lyle Award for Sustainable Development
African Highlands Produce
African Highlands Produce not only produces a tenth of Kenya's tea, the country's biggest foreign exchange earner after tourism. It has developed some of the world's highest-yielding tea bushes. It grows flowers for the European winter and its own wood for tea-drying and for the woodwork in workers' houses.
It generates half its own power, having gathered up hydro-electric sets that had gone out of use elsewhere in Kenya. And, along with five black-tea factories, it runs the country's only factory for instant tea, which fetches three times the black-tea price.
AHP, part of the Glasgow-based Finlay group, started planting tea in 1926 at Kericho in the Rift Valley, 150 miles from Nairobi and about 6,500 feet above sea level. When Kenya became independent in 1963, AHP was producing 4,300 tonnes of tea a year. Last year it produced over 20,000 tonnes from only a 58 per cent greater acreage.
Vegetative propagation, replacing the less reliable results of seed, played a part. Weed control by herbicide saved root damage and soil erosion. Soil and leaf analysis brought more accurate use of fertiliser.
But Nick Paterson, superintendent at Kericho for 13 years and now general manager, says his main emphasis is on "looking after the humblest worker, the plucker. I firmly believe they are the most important in the company. It can survive without a general manager but not without pluckers."
AHP's champion, with the help of three wives, plucked 51 tonnes of tea by hand in a year, an astonishing average of almost a tonne a week. Looking after the pluckers means, above all, providing good schools for their children. "They are fanatical about education."
AHP has built, furnished and extended 12 primary schools on its 16 estates and seeks to ensure that the teaching, provided by the government, is good. It also promotes social life, including sports, with traditional dancing for the less athletic. Each estate has shops and a social hall.
The company has a 93-bed hospital supported by 19 dispensaries. Campaigns for inoculating infants against measles, polio, tuberculosis and other diseases started in 1985. A family planning unit was set up in l988.
Most pluckers are men and they come from a wide area. When the opportunity to grow cotton, sugar and other cash crops made it attractive for them to stay on their own farms rather than pick tea, AHP began recruiting among the Turkana of the North Kenyan semi-desert. "They are terrific workers," says Nick Paterson. Although AHP provides solidly-built houses with tiled roofs and running water for its 15,000 workers, the wives tend to spend most of the year back home, looking after the family farm. With land scarce in the villages, a few have now started to settle at Kericho.
In the 1960s, Kenya tea had a low-quality reputation. AHP tackled this by installing the country's first CTC (cut, tear and curl) machines which produce the quick-brew most customers like. The switch to CTC also made it possible to use fluid-bed dryers which improve the tea's quality by supporting it on an air cushion and allowing drying air to surround it. Company engineers have developed or adapted many other tea-factory machines.
Management of the estates and factories is mainly by Kenyans,with only five expatriates remaining. Researchers are now seeking to breed tea bushes producing 15 tonnes a hectare per year against the present seven to ten.
AHP is growing 300 hectares of organic tea, using the waste from the instant-tea factory as compost. This compost is also used for the flowers, grown in plastic or netting tunnels.
Nick Paterson points out, however, that AHP's increased income in the last few years depends heavily on the weather and the tea price. With Southern Africa, South India and Sri Lanka hit by drought, the tea price has been good. The weather has been kind, too.
See also Kenya Resources