Kenya: Cultivating fuel wood on tea estates

Unilever Tea Kenya has made dramatic improvements in the production and use of fuel wood to meet future demand.

Eucalyptus treesOptimising fuel wood use

Unilever Tea Kenya (UTK) has reviewed the way it produces and uses its fuel wood, as the growing demand for tea threatens to outstrip supply from its eucalyptus tree plantations. The estates burn wood from fast-growing eucalyptus trees to dry the tea before packaging. The increase in tea production means that by 2017 a shortage of fuel wood is forecast.

UTK is working in partnership with the Kenyan Forestry Research Institute, a regional centre of excellence, on the project. It also consulted experts in South Africa to establish best practice in optimising the use of fuel wood.

More efficient wood use & storage

Changes to planting density, the length of time trees are grown, harvest time, coppicing (cutting back to stimulate growth) and replanting have already been introduced and will increase eucalyptus plantation yields by an estimated 15%.

Storage techniques can affect how efficiently wood burns. Wood is harvested during the dry period and stored under polythene to dry for an average of three months, cutting moisture content to about 10%. This method of storage halves the period from harvest to use, reducing it to under six months. It improves boiler efficiency by about 20% because the wood is drier. UTK has also installed more efficient boilers that reduce wood consumption by about 25%.

Low carbon footprint

Wood is a renewable fuel with a low carbon footprint because trees absorb the same amount of carbon dioxide in their growth as is released when the wood is burned. The managed eucalyptus plantations, used by UTK, help Unilever to reduce its CO2 emissions.

Working in partnership

UTK continues to look for ways to improve efficiency further, for example by exploring new high-yield tree varieties. It is working closely with the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, which is a third-party research partner in Unilever's Sustainable Agriculture Initiative.