By Stuart Singleton-White and Nick Milton
The lush green region of Kenya known as the Nandi Hills sits on the western edge of the great Rift Valley. It is home to some of the finest tea growing areas in the world. While the main town in this region is called Nandi Hills, it is more famously known as the “cradle land of Kenyan running.” For it is in this region that many of Kenya’s top Olympic athletes live and train, taking great advantage of the high altitude and the attractive climate.
It is this same altitude and climate that makes this region so great for growing tea. One of the main tea growers in the region is Eastern Produce Kenya, which has been Rainforest Alliance Certified™ since 2007.
At this summer’s Olympic games in London, two members of Kenya’s running team–Mark Muttai, the 400 meter Commonwealth Champion, and Maureen Jelagat, who will represent Kenya in the 400 meter hurdles–not only train in the Nandi Hills but come from that region and grew up surrounded by tea. Freelance journalist Nick Milton met up with them while they were in the UK preparing for the Olympics.“I learned to run around the tea plantations in the highlands of the Nandi Hills in the Rift Valley. The tea plantations are excellent training grounds for the Olympics because of their high altitude and unpolluted air. The community I grew up in was very poor. A lot of my friends are now small holders who make their living from growing tea,” explained Mark Muttai. “I have been impressed by the work of the Rainforest Alliance in helping tea growers increase production and farm more sustainably. Britain is known around the world as a nation of tea drinkers so please look out for their green frog logo when buying tea–it will help poor Kenyans and the environment.”
“Many of my friends grow tea. It’s a lifeline for lots of poor people in Iten in the Rift Valley where I was born and grew up,” added Maureen Jelagat. “Over the years Iten has produced many great Olympic runners. For me competing in the London 2012 Olympics will be the biggest achievement of my life. But I also want to use the opportunity to tell people about Kenya. Tea is our number one export so it’s vital that it benefits poor people. Buying Rainforest Alliance Certified tea really makes a difference as it helps small farmers and the environment. So please do look out for the Rainforest Alliance’s little green frog when you next go to the supermarket.”
It’s not only Olympians who can see how the Rainforest Alliance has helped to transform tea growing in the region. Eastern Produce Kenya has been growing tea in Kenya since 1945. In the Nandi Hills, they own 12 tea estates and seven tea factories that employ between 5,000 and 9,000 people. Tea is grown on around 12,000 acres (5,000 hectares) of land and surrounded by over 6,400 acres (2,600 hectares) of native forest which forms a vital link in Kenya’s forest ecosystem. A recent biodiversity survey found that these forests and wetlands provide vital habitat for more than 247 species of birds and 15 percent of Kenya’s butterfly population (many of which are endangered), plus an array of dragon flies and amphibians.
On the estates, Eastern Produce Kenya provides more than 6,400 homes for workers and their families, grouped into 108 villages. They also provide 15 schools–staffed byteachers supplied by the Kenyan government–and 15 health centers for staff and their families. Local people who are not employed by Eastern Produce Kenya are also able to use these centers in an emergency.
When asked about the benefits of working with the Rainforest Alliance, the team from Eastern Produce Kenya–led by operations director Chris Flowers and corporate social responsibility manager Simon Odhiambo–pointed to improved soil conservation and better housing, highlighting the introduction of kitchen gardens to help workers grow their own vegetables, as well as improved wetland and wastewater management.
Eastern Produce Kenya also supports more than 8,500 small holder farmers who grow on 14,300 acres (5,800 hectares) of land. These producers sell their tea to Eastern Produce Kenya and the next phase of the project with the Rainforest Alliance is to roll certification out to these smallholders.
Learn more about the Rainforest Alliance’s work with tea farmers in Kenya with this lively video.