Why are African people still buying foreign Tea brands?

Assorted Tea and Coffee brands

It’s a different thing, if you have a thing for a rare, flavoursome and luxurious Peruvian Coffee bean that grows deep in the Hauscaran mountains and that is unusually picked by monkeys – who then bring the beans to places more accessible by humans. Believe me, its a very different thing if you indulge in such epicurean luxuries only occasionally…

But in my view Africans have no excuse for buying foreign tea or coffee brands on a daily basis as part of their weekly or monthly shopping. This is because across the continent there are hundreds of brands and tastes to satisfy just about every pallette or taste. And if we truly claim to care about improving the economies of our countries across Africa, we would do more to patronise such home-grown products – instead of stocking our shelves full with western ones that do nothing or very little for our poor tea farmers.

But why does it matter? Why should it matter?

The Covid19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the inequality and financial woes which our countries face on the African continent. It has also significantly slowed down economic activity for many countries, not just in Africa. And things do not look good.

A few days ago, Ren Zhengfei the chief executive of Huawei, once a Chinese tech juggernaut that aimed to dominate the global smartphone and telecom market, warned the company’s staff that tough times lay ahead for the technology company and the global economy. He was writing in an email intended only for company staff, that was leaked, in which he warned that there will be “no bright spot in the world” for three to five years—a “very painful historical period” as the global economy declines.

His comments are not entirely surprising.

For at least a year now, financial analysts across the world have been warning of painful economic consequences for Africa directly resulting from the pandemic. We have had plenty of warnings about shrinking economies, defaults, debt restructuring, a greater need for bail outs, lower investor dividends, and higher interest rates. In fact even those few economies which are often lauded as good economic performers have struggled to maintain their outputs. For example, Ghana recently asked for a bailout. The 17th in the country’s history. Botswana, another highflyer, saw a 30% decline in rough diamond sales at the Debswana Diamond Company, the entity that controls diamond production, which accounts for 80-85% of the country’s export earnings. As would be expected, the hit had knock-on effects on the broader Botswanan economy. And Zambia is cancelling over $2 Billion worth of projects to prevent incurring more debt.

This type of picture is reflected almost everywhere across the continent.

So, given such a backdrop, you’d think that our countries’ citizens across the continent would be more diligent to try and look after our resources more carefully. After all, when push comes to shove – they’re the ones who will be most affected by any negative economic impact.

Unfortunately that’s not the picture that emerges because in 2021 alone, African countries imported over $930 million worth of tea. That’s a lot of tea!

Now, I’m not saying that all such tea imports comprised of foreign brands, but a considerable proportion is highly likely to have been such. Because if you look at the value of processed tea exports from across the world, you’ll see that foreign brands dominate the market.

Also, I acknowledge that in a globalised world, it’s difficult for governments of what are predominantly developing countries to put certain protectionist measures in place without appearing to be against free and open markets – something that could have other undesirable repercussions.

But imagine for a moment if say 85% of the tea value which African countries imported was sourced from tea processed across the continent, instead of being imported from outside Africa. How much money would our people save in such a scenario? How beneficial would such savings be to African economies in the current tough economic climate? How much intra-Africa trade would such generate?

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