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Kenya turns to Japanese green tea to boost earnings

Kenya's leading tea producer is setting up a specialised factory to produce Japanese sencha green tea, it said on Thursday, in a move aimed at raising farmers' earnings from the crop.

NAIROBI, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Kenya's leading tea producer is setting up a specialised factory to produce Japanese sencha green tea, it said on Thursday, in a move aimed at raising farmers' earnings from the crop.

The East African country, the world's biggest exporter of black tea, is trying to diversify into speciality teas, which normally command higher prices than the traditional variety.

The new factory will cost 330 million shillings ($3.05 million), 45% of which is being provided by the Japan Development Agency (JICA).

"We can diversify the products that smallholder tea farmers process in order to ensure that they are cushioned against the fluctuations of black ... tea prices," said Alfred Njagi, an executive at the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA).

China is one of the biggest producers of Japanese sencha green tea, which differs from conventional tea mainly due to its distinct preparation process, KTDA said.

"One of the requirements of processing Japanese sencha green tea is that it should be delivered to the factory within one hour of plucking," said Jared Onduso, an assistant manager for the project.

The new Japanese sencha green tea factory follows other moves in Kenya to promote diversification in its tea industry, which has started to increase production of niche varieties like purple and white tea in the past few years.

The new factory is expected to start production in the first quarter of next year.

KTDA is the biggest producer of tea in Kenya, serving hundreds of thousands of smallholders through its factories. It did not give details on the difference in prices between Japanese sencha and the traditional variety of tea.

($1 = 108.3000 Kenyan shillings)

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri. Editing by Jane Merriman)

((duncan.miriri@thomsonreuters.com; Tel: +254 20 4991239; Reuters Messaging: duncan.miriri.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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