Two days away from the Nigerian capital Abuja, on the cold Mambilla Plateau, is the village of Kakara in Sardauna Local Government Area, Taraba State. It is the location of Africa’s biggest tea farm and West Africa’s only highland tea plantation.
The tea plantation was formalized in the 1970s when the Chinese tea brand Bohea secured 400 hectares of irrigated land. It became Nigeria’s first commercial tea project.
In 1993, the European Economic Commission (EEC) became involved, distributing tea seeds and introducing tea production to 27 villages, expanding outgrowers from 150 to 2,700. The EEC terminated the programme in 1995 when the international community sanctioned then Head of State Sani Abacha. The effect was immediate: harvest periods increased from two to 20 days, at which time it became tough to find a market for the tea; this led to many farmers deserting the tea business, or intercropping with food crops. That slump has continued to the present day.
The best-known product from the farms is Highland Tea, also known as Mambilla Tea, made by Mambila Beverages Nigeria Limited (MBNL). The company’s 615 hectares of estate includes a processing factory with a production capacity of 1.6 million kilograms of tea. Across the villages on the plateau, the company has 2,000 outgrowers on 6,000 farms—a total of 800 hectares. It has plans to begin production of green tea in packs rather than just porches.
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.