My name is Bouke Bruinsma. I usually work as a Process Engineer in the Mars Chocolate factory in Holland, but at this moment I have the privilege of spending four weeks in Kenya as a Mars Ambassador with the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) and the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) as part of the Mars Ambassador Program (MAP). The goal of MAP is to make a positive difference to people and the planet through mutually beneficial, hands-on experiences called MAP assignments.

Bouke_and_KTDA_staff_memberMars Drinks is a member of ETP and buys a large volume of their tea from KTDA factories in Kenya. My assignment is focused on energy reduction in tea processing factories. Since energy costs make up to 60% of the production costs in tea factories, energy reduction can directly benefit the hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers and their families who process their tea via the KTDA co-operative factories.

In my first three weeks I have executed Energy Audits at 6 factories located in the West and East of Kenya. At two of these factories I also participated in Energy Trainings for factory staff and I supported the commissioning of an Energy Monitoring System at one factory. This system, funded by the program, has been installed at a factory where last year’s Mars Ambassador spent quite a lot of time. The system has been designed according to European standards, it’s very well set up, and has great reporting possibilities.

There are quite a lot of differences between the factories I have visited with some being operated very well at their design capacity. You can see their management are driving for operational excellence; there is hardly any spillage, very little leakage, equipment is well maintained, little rework, and employees seem to be well trained in their job. While in other factories, equipment is underutilized, machines run idle, process steps are not aligned, maintenance level is low, and people seem to be less engaged. Basically these performance differences are not different from factories I have seen in the Netherlands or elsewhere in Europe, but there are more challenges in Africa. For example, a daily black-out is common, and at some factories the grid electricity fails several times a day and the generator sets have to take over. Nevertheless, KTDA is producing good quality tea at a large scale. KTDA represents more than 560,000 tea producing smallholders with almost 70 factories all over Kenya, producing several hundred million kilograms of dry tea every year.

I advised the factories on many energy related opportunities varying from improvements in the boiler house, fire wood management, leakage repairs in steam and condensate systems, steam trap maintenance, heat reuse, frequency controls on fans, withering optimization and production alignment. There is still a number of ‘low hanging fruit’ that require minimal investments – it’s my opinion that KTDA should be able to improve energy efficiency with a 10 to 20% reduction.


Solutions must, fit the culture -  simple robust solutions that require minimal maintenance are the best. For example, a simple spring based hanging scale for measuring the fire wood mass will last forever, while a scale placed on the floor would be broken in no-time at an African wood fired boiler house.

I am very impressed by the knowledge of my Kenyan colleagues with whom I have worked with during the Energy Audits – they’re all highly motivated and educated people. I will miss the hospitality and warm-heartedness of these colleagues and the Kenyan people in general when I go back to Holland. Besides these warm memories, I will take home the knowledge I gained about the very interesting process of tea making.