Tea factory closed in fight to break from parent company

Operations at Toror Tea Factory in Ainamoi constituency have been grounded as farmers fight for independence from the parent company.

Several tea-buying centres have been closed down after the 12,000 farmers vowed not to re-open the factory as they seek separation from Tegat Tea Factory.

The farmers initially belonged to the Tegat factory before Toror was established in 2007.

The new factory was set up with funds provide by Tegat, which is managed by the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA). The agency regulates all public tea factories.

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All tea factories are owned by farmers through shareholding. Toror was set up ease pressure on Tegat as the number of farmers increased.

But in a new twist, Toror farmers decided to cut links with Tegat. They want to make Toror a private limited teafactory.

However, Tegat farmers own a portion of Toror on account that their money was used to establish the new factory. That is why KTDA is supporting Tegat's decision not to give in to Toror's demands for independence.

A reluctance by Toror farmers to pay their Tegat counterparts the value of shares they own in the new factory as one way of attaining their independence has complicated matters.

The unhappy Toror farmers have resorted to delivering their green leaf to private tea companies.

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John Chebochok, their spokesman, said they would not deliver green leaf to the KTDA-managed factory until their demands were met. 

"We want separation from Tegat because we repaid the millions of shillings used to build the Toror factory three years ago," said Mr Chebochok.

He said Toror farmers earned Sh30 per kilo of tea instead of Sh37 because of their links with Tegat.

"We literally donate Sh7 to Tegat but this is not done willingly. It means a farmer who has delivered 1,000kg of tea loses Sh7,000. Yet there are many farmers who deliver more than 1,000kg of tea," said Chebochok.

"Toror was registered as a limited company. We have competent staff who can run the factory. We don’t need any help from Tegat or KTDA,” said the former senior manager at Finlay’s Tea Company.

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Seven MCAs expressed their support for Toror when they joined the farmers in demonstrations Thursday. 

The MCAs - Paul Chirchir (Kapsoit), Bernard Mutai (Kipchimchim), Erick Koskei (Kapsaos), Cheruiyot Bett (Ainamoi), Collins Beigon (Kipchebor), Evans Ngeno (Cheborge) and Erick Bett (Kipchebor) claimed small-holder farmers were being taken advantage of.

"Eastern Rift region is not well represented on the KTDA board. Their separation from Tegat as well as the Kapset tea factory will mean more representation in KTDA," said Mr Chirchir. 

Mr Mutai said they would seek disbandment of KTDA if the agency failed to give in to the farmers' demands.

"After all, agriculture is a devolved function meaning management of the tea sector should be put under the county government," said Mutai.

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Mr Bett accused KTDA of overlooking the region in employment and other opportunities yet it produced close to 70 per cent of all the tea in Kenya. 

But KTDA said Toror and Rorok were subsidiaries fully owned by their parent companies.

“In this case Tegat and Kapset tea companies respectively own these subsidiaries. They belong to all the shareholders of the parent factory. It is not possible to separate the satellite factories from parent factory,” read a post on the KTDA Facebook page.

The agency said those willing to acquire satellite factories must first pay off shareholders in the parent factory.

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Toror Tea FactoryKTDAKenya Tea Development AgencyTegat factoryTeaTea