Tea-chnology | By Oliver Kitchen

If you’d asked me a year ago where I’d like to be, and what I’d like to be doing, the last thing I would have possibly said was conducting voluntary business consultancy in Zambia. Now, with my placement nearly over, it’s been the greatest experience of my life. It’s opened my eyes to a new culture, new friends, and – most importantly – new extremely estranged feelings towards technology.

The first day on the job with Challenges Worldwide ICS, will never stray too far from my mind. I was placed in a company named Yatu Foods, located on the outskirts of Kitwe in a town called Kalulushi. Yatu specialise, primarily, in tea and water, but do have a finger in a number of pies with plans to expand into baking powder, casting sugar and – with a little help from yours truly – the iced tea market.

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Naïve is the only word I could use to describe my pre-Yatu thoughts of how tea would be processed in Sub-Saharan Africa. Once hearing I was placed in Yatu I had contrived the notion of large machines compressing tea into little bags, conveyer belts transporting thousands of those teabags into hundreds of packets, and a fleet of Yatu branded trucks at the end ready to hurl the tea all over Zambia… As I said, naïve, right?

In actuality, I couldn’t have been further from the truth. I remember realising, on that first day, as I stared amazingly at the simplistic, yet effective method of Yatu’s packaging process just where I was, and how deluded my preconceptions were. I watched as the employees organised themselves into an effective human instrument of tea packing utopia. A 15 tonne, loose tea bale hurled onto the table, hands attack as ‘packers’ grab, a very loosely termed, handful, toss it into an individual sachet, and finally pass it on to be pressed and sealed.

Now, I know what you are thinking: “That doesn’t sound very effective!” Oh contraire dear reader. This process, without any technology, on average creates 27,400 sachets of tea a day. That’s over 150,000 sachets a week! I’m no tea manufacturing expert, but I know a big number when I see one, and that most certainly is one.

This raised a question in my naïve little head; would a higher level of technology really benefit a company like Yatu? I’ve taken some time to consider this question and my answer is yes… And no. Obviously, Yatu could benefit from an even higher number of outputs, save money on waste tea, and have an increased control over quality. But, for me it would take away it’s character, it’s well-oiled processing staff and more machines would equal more electricity, and a bigger carbon footprint.

Challenges Worldwide Volunteer Ollie at the Yatu processing factory
Challenges Worldwide Volunteer Ollie at the Yatu processing factory

Wait, before you call me a big hippy, I do have other reasons. An increased reliance on modern technology would also take away employment opportunities from the local community. One of the reasons Challenges Worldwide was created, was to boost the local economy and increase social mobility in less developed countries.

Implementing new technology may be considered more efficient, but I don’t think it should be considered the most effective.

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