One of the major reasons the tea sector is ailing is because of high cost of production at the farm and at factory level. If a farmer picks 1000Kg per Month it costs him 10000-13000 shillings in labour alone. Unfortunately tea pickers contracted by farmers within tea farms have created a parasitic relationship that takes away 90% of the farmer’s earnings whilst being grossly unreliable. And therefore the need for quick mechanisation of the tea picking process in order to reduce labour cost and increase productivity for the farmer and more income for the country.
While technology in any sector of the economy could create job losses, it also creates other value jobs in the same sectors. In addition, technology brings along undisputed efficiencies. One user machine can be used daily around the year with minimum losses. Existing tea pickers can adopt the machine and use it for contract tea picking all year round.
Mchai is a new water proof tea harvester which highly improves the working efficiency of tea harvests. It is an upgrade model and its main aim is to provide high quality produce at an affordable price. Mchai Technology is simple; One User, Rechargeable Lithium Battery, picks tea for 8Hrs a day like a human and yields like 10 of them.
Mchai addresses cost reduction at the farm/farmgate level by more than 70%.
Hand picking yields an average of 40Kg per Plucker per day at Kshs. 10-13 depending on the region. Mchai Machine Plucking yields an average of 40Kg per Hr. or 240-320Kg per day at a cost of Kshs. 3-5 per Kg which is a saving of Ksh. 7-10 per Kg.
With Mchai machine plucking, a farmer spends 3000-5000 shillings creating a saving of 7000-10000 shillings. This is equivalent to a Kshs.10 bonus per kilo at the farm on Greenleaf at the farm!
Benefits of Mchai technology
- Machine plucking is faster therefore one plucks a bigger area compared to hand plucking.
- Machine plucking is expected to give favorable competition to hand plucking therefore forcing pluckers to reduce plucking cost.
- Machine plucking checks on the heights therefore machine plucked teas maintains low plucking heights and a good plucking table.
- It requires less manpower to operate and plucks bigger area compared to hand plucking.
- Will ensure timely plucking during flush times when labor is a constraint and this in turn will increase productivity.
- No much crop lost due to machine plucking as one can pluck an average of two times in a month
- Large tea collecting tray
- Water proof, can work on rainy days
- More comfortable handle design
Addressing issues that could stifle adoption of this technology
Quality fears - Kenya upholds 2 leaves and a bud quality standard which is a very high bar to beat. Previous machine technologies could not attain this and considering the sheer numbers of small holder farmers (700000), without proper monitoring, Kenyan quality tea could suffer. Nonetheless, consider that Kenya is the only country that uses 70% manual plucking in the world, with high quality tea yet still they get lower prices in the export market.
The solution to this is the Mchai tea plucking machine that has been tested and adopted by most tea estates factories and multinationals for their small scale out growers.
Unfair trade practices: Large tea estates use very big machines that yield low quality Greenleaf; to subsidize this failure, they refuse to support their small holder out growers to adopt machine harvesting so that they can use their Greenleaf to blend with their low-quality leaf before processing. With Mchai, the farmer can still attain this, the factories must support the farmers in adopting it.
Affordability and ROI fears: Previous machines were out of reach of the small-scale farmers. Mchai technologies have created a machine that is affordable, efficient and cheaper to maintain than manual labor.
What about the quality of the harvested tea?
Let us look at what constitutes quality plucked tea: Manual Plucking; 2 leaves and a bud.
What is good leaf in machine plucking?
As opposed to hand plucking, in machine plucking the teas plucked are of different types. Therefore, good leaves are:
- Two leaves and a bud.
- One leaf and a bud.
- Soft banjhi shoot.
- Loose buds.
- Soft loose leaf.
What is poor leaf in machine plucking?
- More than two leaves and a bud
- Dark green/coarse loose leaf
- Hard banjhi shoot
This data is an outcome of research and tests done by Mchai and Tea Processing Factories. Mchai has attained 75% of leaf quality compared to the accepted 65% industry standard. The machine has received very high approval rating and it is a major way of increasing earnings in the Tea Sector.
Process for Adoption Mchai machine
With Mchai Machine picking, first a farmer does hard pluck by hand, lightly skiff the field – this ensures that good table is formed from where to carry out continuous normal plucking.
After skiffing (pruning) the tea will take longer time before plucking can start. This is due to the removal of foliage which reduces photosynthesis leading to poor shoot generation. It takes between 3-4 weeks before plucking.
The first shoots after skiffing are fewer therefore plucking has to be done as skipping the plucking round will affect again the plucking table.
After 3 machine picking cycles, the picking by Mchai Machine becomes similar to manual plucking but with a higher picking efficiency thus increasing yield.
Essential features of Mchai machine:
- Rechargeable Battery Operated
- 8HR plucking time
- 40kg per Hour
- Over 300kg per day
- 2-3 Pluckings a month
- KTDA plucking Quality, 2 leaves and a bud!
- 3-5/= plucking rate per Kg
- 7-10/= Savings Per Kg
Mchai is approved by Kenya Tea Development Authority. It is already being used by multinational tea factories. There are currently 1200 pcs in use in Kenya. Mchai is available for delivery countrywide.
There are plans to open sales and service centres in various tea growing parts of the country.