The Fall and Rise of Tanzania’s Tea Industry

In 1902 German settlers planted the first Tanzanian tea at the Agricultural Re-
search Station at Amani, Tanga, and by 1904 spreading out to Kyimbila in Tan-
zania’s Rungwe District in the Mbeya region.  By 1926 commercial tea produc-
tion had begun, increasing considerably after WWII when Britain took control,
with production tripling between 1934 and 1960, increasing to 3,700 tons.
Independence from Britain in
1961 also brought a change to the Tanganyika
Tea Board, replaced by the Tanzania Tea
Authority.  Before independence Tanzania’s tea
was primarily produced by large privately owned
multinational tea estates.  After independence
Tanzania became a republic, nationalizing many of
its large tea estates bringing them under
governmental rule.
There were some es-
tates exempt from
nationalization, but
two of Tanzania’s lar-
gest estates were
eventually national-
ized.  Also, after 1961 new governmental pro-
grams were established to encourage independent smallholder tea growers.

But Tanzania never achieved the success that Kenya did with its
enthusiastic worker efforts and participation.  In the beginning
smallholders contributed nearly 29% of the total Tanzanian tea
produced going into the 1985-86 season.  But by 1988 the totals
had fallen to less than 5%.

There were many reasons for the smallholder decline in tea
production.  Strict governmental price controls set for tea, to farmers not being paid at all for
delivered tea, crumbling or no infrastructures, the lack of passable roads preventing fresh leaf
from being delivered in time to be process-
ed, to rundown transport equipment and
facilities all led to the eventual decline in
Tanzania’s overall tea production.

Not only were the smallholders affected,
but the lack of a solid infrastructure affect-
ed the large nationalized tea factories and
tea estates as well, including the two lar-
gest nationalized estates.

There was also very little funding for tea
research programs such as clonal plant de-
velopment, effective plant maintenance,
pest control, proper cultivation, and soil
maintenance techniques.

Just before the entire collapse of Tanzania’s
tea industry, massive governmental reforms paved
the way for important changes.  The first step was
once again privatizing the two largest tea estates
and four of the nationalized tea factories.

The return to privatization brought about an influx of foreign
capital, allowing the government to loosen price controls on
smallholder tea and help to revive the tea industry overall, even
though it would take years for it to get back on solid footing.

Today Tanzania is the fourth largest tea producer in Africa after
KenyaMalawi, and Uganda.  It contributes approximately 1% of
the total tea production worldwide with around 32,000 tons pro-
duced in 2009.

Tanzania has about 23,000 acres of tea, with smallholder farms
and privately owned tea estates both occupying approximately half or 11,500 acres of tea each.
Today there are 20 primary processing factories spread out among seven districts, together with
five licensed blending and packing factories.

There are three main tea growing districts in Tanzania: the South-
ern Highland Zone with Mufindi, Njombe, and Rungwe Districts of
the Iringa region, located not far from the Livingston Mountains,
rising up to the Great Rift Valley and Lake Malawi;  the North East
Zone with Lushoto, Korogwe, and Muheza Districts, and the North
West Zone with the Bukoba and Muleba Districts located in the high
plateau regions of the Masai Steppe near Mount Kilamanjaro and
the highlands of the Usambara Mountains.

Like Kenya, most Tanzanian tea produced is CTC (cut-tear-curl),
used in 
tea bags and blends.  It’s strong, robust tea with a
fruity flavor.  The quality of Tanzanian tea has been slowly
improving over time and it’s one of the goals of the Tea Board of
Tanzania or TBT (created in 1997 during restructuring of the tea
industry to replace the Tanzania Tea Authority), to continue
working toward higher tea quality and production among other

The Tea Board of Tanzania or TBT, is also looking to the future with
a hopeful eye, their vision being to create harmony and enhance
growth and profitability of their tea industry by 2025.  To that end
they are working on a “Ten Year National Tea Program,” with the
focus being to further promote tea production, processing, and
marketing by establishing a more harmonious and productive envir-
onment in which to work toward a common goal of successful tea
production for all.

It appears they are well on their way to achieving success, so hopefully they can keep the
current momentum going.  It’s encouraging from my perspective to see Tanzania’s tea growers
and producers rising back up and fighting to keep their tea industry alive.  Good luck to them be-
cause heaven knows there’s always room for more quality tea.  Enjoy.