From 2004 to 2009, the Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa implemented 11 out of 12 planned research projects based on its Strategic Plan for 2002 – 2007.
Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa is a not-for-profit organisation funded entirely by its members through a cess per unit kilogram of made tea. Malawi and Zimbabwe tea growers are the current members. The Foundation develops improved technologies and disseminates them to its member growers.
Tea research was recognised as an important component of the tea industry in southern and central African countries by the pioneer tea growers in Malawi early in the 19th century. They consequently founded and funded the Tea Research Association in 1929.
First tea experiments were established at (the first) Thyolo Tea Research Station in Thyolo district of the southern Malawi. Five years later, tea growers formed the Tea Association of Nyasaland and government took over the responsibility of research. Twenty-five years later in 1959, growers once again, took over responsibility of research and formed the Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa in 1966.
The vision of TRFCA is to develop new technologies by conducting its research programs in a manner to satisfy both the short - and long – term needs of its stakeholders with the overall goal of sustaining a viable tea industry. The research must be demand driven and meet international standards.
The Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa is the service provider of scientific research and technology to the tea industry in southern Africa by developing new high yielding, good quality and globally competitive tea together with cost effective production and management techniques in the field and factory.
It disseminates these technologies through extension and training. Its activities are conducted in an ethical, sustainable and environmentally sensitive manner leading to improvement in the livelihoods of the rural communities in the tea growing area of southern Africa.
The tea industries of Zimbabwe and Malawi have associations of tea growers who are members of the Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa. Selected members from these two associations form the Board of Trustees of the Foundation.
The Board also includes selected eminent scientists in the region. The Director, as the Chief Executive of the Foundation, reports to the Board and its stakeholders relay major decisions of the Trustees to the industries.
The staff establishment of the Foundation is 39. Out of this number, 4 are scientists, 15 are technical support staff and the rest are administrative. The establishment is small because the Foundation, since 2002, focuses only on its core functions. The small staff establishment does not compromise with the number of problems TRFCA can address. Any priority research areas that cannot be addressed by TRFCA staff can either be contracted out or an expertise outsourced. This therefore compensates for the reduced full time research equivalent.
TRFCA has two research sub-stations, Nsuwadzi Tea Research Station in Mulanje Malawi, and Chipinge Tea Estates in Zimbabwe. Its head quarters are at Mimosa Research Station in Mulanje, Malawi. These stations have adequate land for on-station experiments and commercial tea fields. These are leased to tea companies and are a significant source of income from sale of green leaf.
Tea research has undoubtedly contributed to the growth of the tea industry in the southern part of Africa. It has developed new and scientifically locally adapted technologies. Improved and commercially popular cultivars developed by the Foundation include PC 105, PC 108, PC 117, PC 122, PC 168, PC 185, PC 198 and PC 213 among others. Other technologies include production of composite plants, use of pluckable shoots in vegetative propagation of tea, pruning of young tea, and more recently the possibility of producing health benefit tea cultivars.
The improved cultivar technologies and cultural practices have been widely adopted by growers contributing to the increase in area under tea, production and estate productivity. About 20% of the area planted to tea in 2001 was under improved cultivars replacing the old seedling tea. Cultivars PC 108, PC 105, SFS 204, SFS 150, PC 122 and PC 117 widely replaced the old seedling tea cultivars. Recently, PC 168 has also been replacing the old cultivars.
Area under tea has, as a result, increased from 13,920 hectares in 1966 to 18766 hectares in 2008. Annual tea production increased from xxx to 43,940 metric tons and made tea yields per hectare reached 2,340 kilograms. A similar magnitude of increase in productivity and area has been attained in Zimbabwe.
It is interesting to note that some of the cultivars developed at TRFCA are grown in non- member countries within the region as well as overseas countries. Methods of vegetative propagation, particularly use of pluckable shoots, have been adopted in countries like Tanzania and Kenya. Some cultivars are reported growing in Australia, Pappas Guinea, Uganda, and other countries afar.
Outputs from research are disseminated through field days, annual reports, newsletters and scientific journals. TRFCA ensures that before technologies are released they are thoroughly tested for their field performance and made tea quality. The latter is made possible by the huge investment in ECM available at the Foundation since 2008.
Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa is an old tea research not-for -profit private research institution in southern Africa. It is entirely funded by tea growers. Over the years it has developed technologies acceptable to its stakeholders. This has increased annual production and productivity of the estates.The Foundation owes its success to stakeholders. They are committed to sustaining its activities through cess payment. The Foundation is a shining example of a private sector research of a commercial perennial crop in the region and worldwide.