The story of tea started in the far east around 27C BC when a Chinese Emperor was boiling water and tea leaves fell into his pot and formed a tasty brew that grew to become the second most consumed beverage in the world after water. Tea then spread to India and other British colonies in Asia and Africa. In Africa it can be traced back to the scramble for Africa between 1880 and the 1900s when the European nations competed in developing technological and military power, this search for additional resources led to the despatching of explorers to various parts of the world beyond the then known borders. At that time, tea was already being grown in China, India and Ceylon which were then under the British rule, this was replicated in East Africa.
In order to safeguard the tea supplies and meet the increasing demand, the Europeans looked for other suitable tea growing areas in Africa with the first seedlings being introduced in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa in 1877. This was later spread to East and Central Africa in the early 1900.
The first tea seedlings reached Burundi in 1931 and were incubated at the Gisozi research station. It was not until 1952 when the actual commercial planting of tea was started. In 1963 the Agricultural Research Institute, ISABU (Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Burundi) established the first commercial tea plantations in Teza and in 1966 another project was started in Rwegura as part of the large scale tea production. These were developed and tea processing factories established in the two locations to process the tea from their own plantations. The smallholders began producing tea during the 1970s and 1980s following various donor supported projects where two more tea factories Tora (1969) and Ijenda (1974). These were financed by the European donors as well as resources from the government of Burundi. The Office du The du Burndi (OTB) was created in 1971 with the mission of promoting tea growing in Burundi as well as the production and marketing of tea. There are 6 Tea factories in Burundi, 5 managed by OTB and one private factory located at Gisozi. These commenced operations as follows, Teza in 1967, Rwegura (1971), Tora (1976), Ijenda (1984), Buhoro (1992) and Prothem (2011).
Burundi’s climate has highly contributed to the quality of tea harvested from the region with temperatures of 18-21 degrees Celcius and the country receiving rainfalls of 150cm – 250 cm per year that is well distributed around the year and Humid conditions of 70-90% favours tea growing. Hand plucking is used for tea harvesting in Burundi where the farmers spend long hours hand collecting tea into their back baskets. This method is the most preferred as it preserves the natural sweetness and flavour of the tea leaves as compared to machine harvesting. Burundi tea stands out in taste and quality and is preferred by a number of buyers around the globe.
The tea production grew steadily and now exceeds 12,000 tons of made tea. Tea is currently Burundi’s second largest cash crop after coffee, contributing approximately $32 million to export earnings and supporting over 60,000 smallholders’ farmers who account for about 75 percent of the area allocated to tea and 70 percent of tea production.
Today, Burundi offers more than 12million kgs of made tea with 60% of this volume being traded through the Mombasa Auction and the balance being sold directly to buyers overseas. Most of the Burundi tea is destined for the CIS countries, Pakistan, Oman, Russia, Egypt and Sudan.