The world’s largest tea auction, the Mombasa Tea Auction managed by the East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA), has undergone a significant change since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world switched to remote working where possible and relied on digital capabilities to try to continue with commercial activities, so EATTA has successfully completed the tea auction’s transition to digital.
What began in 1956 as an in-person marketplace for tea from Kenya has expanded over the years into a trade body that sells tea from ten different African countries. These include Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Ethiopia, and is critical in driving the interests of the African tea industry globally.
AWS has worked closely with EATTA to provide hosting services that support the tea auction system and sees this as a critical use of their technology in ensuring the future sustainability of industries like the African tea industry. “Cloud computing and tea leaves are two things that you wouldn’t think would go together,” says Robin Njiru Business Lead-East & West Africa at AWS.
“But when we talk about digitalisation and cloud computing potentially revolutionising almost every area of society, this is what we mean. Auctions and auctioneering is one of the oldest trades in the world and a critical part of manufacturing, agriculture, and other production-focused industries.
In 2015, EATTA resolved to adopt an electronic auction system, to expand the market’s reach beyond the physical auctioning space. Historically, buyers and brokers have had to participate in person in the auction. Today, interested parties can participate in online auctions on the digital platform with a few clicks of a button and an internet connection.
EATTA Managing Director Edward Mudibo, says that, especially in light of Covid-19, the modernisation of the tea trading platform came at the perfect time. “COVID-19 affected supply chains around the world, but we were able to begin trading online in mid-2020, and this has helped us stabilise our trade despite the pandemic. “Importantly, the new platform offers greater transparency, traceability, and supply chain visibility for tea purchasers, which we believe will be critical to growing our market share globally.”
To realise their vision of an online tea auction, EATTA turned to Amazon Web Services (AWS) for their expertise in cloud computing, not wanting to physically build and maintain expensive mainframes and software to facilitate the online auction. Cloud computing is significantly more cost-effective than traditional computing mainframes, allowing EATTA to realise savings using this new online auction system.
Central to EATTA’s decision to go with AWS’s offering was its ability to quickly scale to meet demand, and its cost-efficiency. As the demand for tea on auction fluctuates, so EATTA can change the capacity of their digital platform almost instantly.
“The Mombasa Tea Market has done incredibly well to expand in a sustainable way over the past 60 or so years, but in a changing world, it needs to prepare for what the next 60 years will look like. Tomorrow’s economic opportunities will come by connecting different people and companies in different parts of the world together to realise and share economic opportunities,” Njiru explains.
The Mombasa Tea Auction is estimated to trade more than 520 million kg of tea a year. 75 per cent of this comes from Kenya tea farming alone.