A taskforce on multinationals and other tea sub-sector stakeholders has recommended a ratio of 60:40 machine harvesting to hand plucking.
The taskforce was formed by Governor Erick Mutai in October 2022. A taskforce report released last week said technology in the tea industry won’t be wholly wished away and called on the Kericho county government to negotiate with the large-scale tea producers and other tea sub-sector with a view to achieving a win-win situation.
Established through a Gazette Notice in October 2022, the taskforce was to work for 60 days. It was required to conduct an extensive review of the multinational tea companies and other tea sub-sector in Kericho in collaboration with Nandi and Bomet Counties.
“The taskforce recommends a ratio of 60 per cent: 40 per cent machine harvesting to hand plucking respectively. Legislation to control the importation of heavy mechanisation (valiant tea harvesting machines) to be enacted in the national government and at the county government level,” recommended the 13-member taskforce chaired by Captain (Rtd) Richard Too.
The taskforce noted that nearly all large-scale tea producers and other tea sub-sectors had introduced mechanised tea harvesting in varying proportions, most of which are 100 per cent mechanised.
Various types and models of tea harvesting machines it was noted, have been employed, and include sheer harvesters, battery-powered harvesters (hand-held tea harvesters operated by one person), two-man held machines (hand-held tea harvesters operated by two people) and self-propelled harvesting machines (valiant model).
The introduction of the machines in tea harvesting, it was noted, has significantly reduced the cost of production. “The cost of tea harvesting is maximal (Sh15.32) with hand plucking and minimal (Sh4) with self-propelled machines (valiant model). Thus, the introduction of tea harvesting machines has significantly reduced the cost of production,” read the report.
It was noted the introduction of the tea harvesting machines has, however, occasioned widespread and far-reaching negative social and economic effects amongst the residents in Kericho County.
Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary General Francis Atwoli, as per the report, said tea-harvesting machines were introduced due to unreasonable demand for wage and salary increments by the union.
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Atwoli noted that the tea sector contributes greatly to the economy of Kericho County and the livelihood of the Kericho residents.
He called on stakeholders to exercise caution, especially on the 100 per cent use of tea-plucking machines.
The negotiation on the use and control of tea plucking machines, he said should be viewed as a humanitarian issue and not a business issue.
“The union calls for 50-50 per cent on the use of machines in tea plucking and hand plucking. The union further called on multinationals to concede to the proposed proportion in order to unionise the machine operators, as they are currently not unionised,” said Atwoli as quoted in the report.
The report revealed large-scale tea producers and other tea sub-sectors continue to pay the land rates at Sh1,600 as negotiated with the defunct County Council of Kipsigis and the Municipal Council of Kericho.
The legal land rate as per the Valuation Roll in force (1966) is Sh264. The County Government of Kericho reviewed the valuation roll, but it was challenged by among others, tea producers.
The valuation court that was subsequently established to hear and determine the matter has never rendered its verdict to date due to the non-funding of the said court.
“The Taskforce did not find any evidence that the LSTPs and other tea sub-sectors have been, or are paying, any rent to the National Government or at all as expected,” read the report findings.
The taskforce could also not determine the exact land size occupied by the multinationals. Title deeds, lease titles, lease agreements, survey plans, maps and geospatial data regarding the land under the large-scale tea producers and other tea sub-sectors could neither be traced nor provided.
It recommended that land rates of Sh5,000 to Sh10,000 per acre be charged and reviewed as and when the time comes.