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NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya hopes to launch a new variety of tea with high medicinal value in April, a researcher at the state-owned Tea Research Foundation of Kenya told Reuters on Monday.
The new purple variety, or clone, has higher medicinal properties than green and black tea and its seeds produce oil suitable for cooking, cosmetics and the pharmaceutical industries, the body said.
"We've already applied for registration of the purple tea variety with the ... Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services, and hopefully officially release the clone by April 2011," said Samson Kamunya, a plant breeder at the research body.
"The variety has been used to develop products on experimental basis whose value is four times that of the ordinary black teas."
Researchers at the foundation refer to hybrid tea varieties grown through vegetative propagation as clones, on the basis that cuttings from old tea bushes are grafted onto new plants with desirable genetic traits.
Kenya launched two new tea clones last year that are tougher in drought. The research foundation said the two, TRFK 371/3 and TRFK 430/90, yield about 50 percent more and enhance profitability on better quality.
A notable strength of the two hybrids is that they are suitable for mechanised harvesting, a plus for an industry hard-pressed by growing labour costs, researchers say.
Kamunya said the demand for TRFK 371/3 and TRFK 430/90 has picked up although at slower pace than earlier anticipated because of the perennial nature of tea and lack of new land for tea expansion.
"Farmers well endowed in resources have been uprooting the old low yielding and poor quality varieties to replace with improved clone teas that are high yielding, have uniform attributes and hence easy to manage," he said."
"Farmers constrained in resources are advised to uproot a few bushes at a time until they are able to replant their entire tea fields. As for the actual figures of uptake of the new clones."
Kenya said that though tea has been facing stiff competition from horticultural crops, recent good prices and improved earnings such as those realised in 2010 has renewed interest in the beverage.
Statistics by Tea Board of Kenya show that 2010's output leapt 27 percent to a record 399 million kgs and earnings rose 40 percent to 97 billion shillings, surging past horticulture which brought in 78 billion.
"The situation has resulted in an upsurge in demand for planting materials for replanting and expansion into areas that were traditionally not meant for tea growing. So, the challenge currently is ensuring tea is planted in suitable areas," he said.