Thulami Mtembu has worked at Magwa tea farm for 33 years. For him it’s more than a job. “It’s the smell. Every day I come here I feel so refreshed,” he says. “I love the aroma of the tea bush. The conditions here make our tea special.”
The fragrant, lime-green bushes stretch away to the horizon at the biggest tea plantation in the southern hemisphere. It is a deceptively tranquil scene. Magwa has been racked by strikes, violence and financial strife that have brought production to a standstill and put its future in doubt.
The crisis encapsulates South Africa’s struggle to realise the potential of its wealth of natural resources. It is a story of low or unpaid wages, powerful unions, political inertia and allegations of financial mismanagement. It is a stark example of self-destruction.
The 1,800-hectare (4,450 acre) Magwa farm outside Lusikisiki in Eastern Cape province is blessed with an ideal climate and soil type for growing tea. At its peak five years ago it came close to profitability, producing 2.7m tonnes of tea in a season, sold in advance to countries including Britain, China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The farm employed 1,200 permanent and 2,300 seasonal workers.
But when the market shrank and the tea price declined, the problems began.
University of Hawaii researchers have found Hawaii-grown tea could become a specialty crop for the state.
That’s why the state Senate is looking at ways to enter the multi-billion dollar specialty tea industry. The growing market is expected to double within five years, say the authors of Senate Bill 2957.
Hawaii has the opportunity to take advantage of this boom, proponents believe.
The bill sets regulations for marketing and advertising Hawaii teas, making it clear which are 100 percent Hawaii grown and which are blends that include local teas.
According to the bill, a blended tea can include up to 75 percent of tea from out of state, but must be labeled to make it clear that it is not entirely Hawaii-grown.
University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
UH Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) and the Hawaii Tea Society will host a tea workshop featuring world-renowned tea expert Jane Pettigrew from the United Kingdom, on Friday, June 4, from 3:00-5:00 p.m. The workshop will be held at the Mealani Research Station at 64-289 Mamalahoa Highway in Kamuela on the Big Island.
Pettigrew will speak on the cultural nuances of the world tea industry and how Hawai‘i tea growers can benefit from those nuances. The presentation will be of interest to tea lovers, those who want to learn more about different tea varieties and the countries that produce them, and tea processors.
A cupping evaluation for Hawaii tea growers will also be offered by Pettigrew. Interested growers can enter up to three teas per farm, and should register with 6 grams per tea at 2:30 p.m.