Camellia for Foliage, Flowers, Fruit & Tea
Kenya, host of the 2001 World Tea Convention, is a major supplier (20%) to the UK. Problems of infrastructure are increasing, roads and climate appear to be deteriorating.
In South Africa herbal teas form a major growth area. Black tea is feasible where re-structured for efficiency. Paddock tea in southwest Kwa Zulu Natal is an ambitious business with associated growers sharing processing costs. The region takes advantage of favourable rainfall and superb soils. Further to the southwest in Eastern Cape is a Government run operation nearer the coast. Here employment issues are a serious hindrance to running efficiently.
I saw the flower and foliage operation of Pierre Talijaard who exports direct to Europe and North America. The classic "Fynbos" flora is cultivated and harvested year-round, and compressed air assisted pruners were employed to good effect in the packing shed. Mr Talijaard is a progressive land-based businessman; recent acquisitions to the business include a farm in California and speculative forays to Chile.
Politically South African growers sometimes take the view that the balancing out of views within the post-apartheid ruling party will take years, and that only then will land values stabilise and confidence grow. In the meantime, risk takers are increasing the scale of their business and capitalising through exports by a weak Rand (£1-R15). There are tremendous opportunities in Southern Africa but with associated risks.
Malawi has established a successful tea industry, brought about by the Tea Research Foundation. Pioneering studies were undertaken at Mulangi; the often debated shade trees were proven to be unnecessary in most situations. The scientific approach to tea has benefited global tea progress well beyond Africa.
The States has just one established tea garden, Charleston Tea Plantation on Maybank Highway, Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina - just 18 miles south of Charleston. This is always on the threshold of great things but frequently gets mired in difficulty over business direction. As Americas first three millionaires were involved in the Tea trade, there are tantalising prospects which may yet come about.
The Charleston Tea Plantation was started in 1987 when Mack Fleming, the only practising tea horticulturist in the States and Bill Hall, one of America's few professional tea tasters, bought the property from Thomas J Lipton Inc. Previously Mack Fleming was director of research for the Thomas J Lipton company.
The farm is 51 ha with half of it currently in production. The harvesting season is from May to October and free walking tours are given on the first Saturday of those months. The tea's growing, harvesting, drying, grading and packaging all take place on the plantation.
The tea plantation faces foreclosure, however, if one of the two partners does not succeed in a settlement with the other. Basically they regret that their partnership agreement is so difficult to dissolve.