Taraba State Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku, who is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Architects and also a member of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, is a tea aficionado, and he is never shy to project the flagship product of his state, Highland Tea, produced by Mambilla Beverages Company Limited, which is owned by the state.
At an event, he effusively spoke about the state’s tea brand: “Highland Tea is a rich and quality product that is proudly made in Nigeria, precisely in the popular Mambilla plateau of Taraba State, North East Nigeria that I govern.”
The widespread production of tea leaves from over 6000 farms and processed into packaged tea is the reason for Nigeria’s listing among tea producing nations in the world. Tea is produced in Nigeria on the serene and idyllic Mambilla plateau, which is Nigeria’s northern continuation of the Bamenda Highlands of Cameroon.
The Mambilla Plateau has an average elevation of about 1,600 metres (5,249 ft) above sea level, making it the highest plateau in Nigeria. Some of its villages are situated on hills that must be at least 1,828 metres (5,997 ft) high above sea level.
Some mountains on the plateau and around it are over 2,000 metres (6,562 ft) high, like the Chappal Waddi (more appropriate name: Gang) mountain which has an average height of about 2,419 metres (7,936 ft) above sea level. It is the highest mountain in Nigeria and the highest mountain in West Africa if Cameroon’s mountains, such as Mount Cameroon, are excluded.
The Mambilla Plateau measures about 96 km (60 mi) along its curved length; it is 40 km (25 mi) wide and is bounded by an escarpment that is about 900 m (2,953 ft) high in some places. The plateau covers an area of over 9,389 square kilometres (3,625 sq mi). Gang (‘Chappal Waddi’) Mountain is found at the northeastern flank of the plateau.
The Mambilla Plateau is the cradle of the Bantu-speaking people and has been continuously inhabited for over four millennia by the same Mambillobantu culture. It is under the Sardauna Local Government Area in the southeastern part of Taraba State. It was originally known as Mambilla District, which was carved out in January 1940, and later renamed ‘Mambilla Local Authority’ in 1970. In 1981, it became Mambilla Local Government Area.
The plateau has its south and eastern escarpments standing along the Cameroonian border, while the remainder of its giant northern escarpment and its western slope are in Nigeria.
Why tea grows in Mambilla
The climate of the plateau, according to Wikipedia, is comparatively cold. Daytime temperatures hardly ever exceed 25 °C (77.0 °F) making it the coolest region in Nigeria. Strong winds prevail during the daytime, and the rainy season lasts from mid-March until the end of November. As a result of its high elevation, the plateau experiences temperate weather conditions but on a smaller scale due to its location in a tropical environment.
The rainy season on the Mambilla Plateau is associated with frequent and heavy rainfall due to orographic activities on the plateau involving moist winds from the Atlantic Ocean and the steep edges and escarpments of the plateau. The Mambilla Plateau receives over 1850 millimetres of rainfall annually. It is also free of mosquito and tse-tse fly.
The highland is home to Nigeria and West Africa’s only highland tea plantations, located In Kakara town.
Nigeria’s largest game reserves, the Gashaka/Gumti Game Reserve is found north of the Gangriwal (‘Chappal Waddi’) Mountain area just on the northern border of the Mambilla Plateau. The Gang Peak is West Africa’s highest peak (excluding Cameroon’s peaks) and has a rich historical and tourist importance steeped in enthralling Mambilla mythologies and legends. ‘Chappal Wadi’ is a misnomer for the ancient Gangriwal Peak, whose tradition and historical phenomena have spanned several centuries to date.
Other facts about Mambilla Plateau
The Mambilla region is to play host to huge hydroelectric power dam, which will hopefully lead to aggressive agro-industrial development when it eventually takes off.
Vegetation on the plateau comprises low grasses with trees being noticeably absent except for man-made forest planted by German colonialists during the period of German administration of the Cameroons between 1906 and 1915 and other Nigerian government tree planting programs. It is a home to the Gashaka Gumti National Park, which is the largest national park and protected area in all of Nigeria, as well as the Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve, both of which harbour rare and endangered West and Central African plant and animal species endemic to the area. The eucalyptus tree is the dominant tree is these man-made forests as a result of the easy adaptability of the eucalyptus tree to the harsh climatic conditions on the plateau. The abundance of low lush green grasses on the plateau has attracted a large number of cattle, whose advent beginning during British rule affected the plateau’s vegetation. This has resulted in overgrazing of the plateau and has created problems between the Fulani cattle herders, and the indigenous Mambilla people.