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Tea farmers jittery as logging order could leave Sh5b hole

By Lydiah Nyawira, Boniface Gikandi and Munene Kamau | Published Tue, April 10th 2018 at 07:55, Updated April 10th 2018 at 07:58 GMT +3
Iria-ini Tea Factory- Workers in operation at Iria-ini tea factory. KTDA director, Peter Kanyago urged farmers and other stakeholders in the tea industry to embrace the use of tea plucking machines. [John Gathua, Standard]

In summary

  • Factories may be forced to use expensive furnace oil as fuel to replace wood
  • In Murang'a, most builders have shifted to use of metal after cost of timber skyrocketed two-fold

Tea farmers may lose up to Sh5 billion as a result of ban on logging if Kenya Tea Development Agency seeks alternative energy source known as furnace oil.

Speaking to The Standard, KTDA Chairman Peter Kanyago said farmers would face losses if the ban on logging continued because the cost of tea production would rise.

Tea export earnings for the country stood at Sh129 billion in 2017 up from Sh 120 billion in 2016.

“We completely support the ban on logging because we value the environment and believe we should protect the forests, however, those with their own tree plantations should be allowed to harvest,” said Mr Kanyago.

Feeling pinch

Tea firms are among others in the food and construction industries that are feeling the pinch of hiked timber and charcoal prices as the ban on logging continues.

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Across the country, eateries are devising ways of keeping local delicacy - nyama choma - on their menus, given the rising costs of charcoal, which is used to roast the meat.

Carpenters too have had to contend with rising costs of timber, pushing up prices of caskets and other furniture.

Speaking yesterday, Kanyago noted some of the 68 KTDA affiliated factories had planted trees on over 20,000 acres of land and should be allowed to harvest from their plantations.

Kanyago pointed out the factories use wood fuel for their boilers and the factories only use the trees cut from their plantations and ensure they are replanted.

“Those with their own plantations are practicing a form of renewable energy because they replant every tree they cut down,” the chairman insisted.

KTDA uses about 1,000, 000 cubic metres of wood per year for all the 68 tea factories it manages.

However, while the ban remains in place, the tea factories are relying on firewood stocks which are quickly dwindling.

“We had stocked up firewood which will last most of factories for at least a month, however after that we'll have to find an alternative,” he warned.

He asked the national government to lift taxes on furnace oil as it was the only likely alternative to wood fuel that could be used in the factories.

“It (furnace oil) is at least five times more expensive than wood and therefore we ask the Government to consider lifting taxes on it so we can afford to buy and use it for production,” he pleaded.

Kanyago noted tea farmers were eagerly awaiting the report from the task force to know their fate.

In Kirinyaga County, the five tea factories which use fire wood to generate steam for withering green tea leafs are also in a dilemma following the ban.

Zone Five KTDA director Nyaga Karua said the wood fuel stocks left can only sustain the factories for the next one month after which they will resort to the use of the expensive furnace oil.

“Some of our factories have plantations in Mbeere in Embu County but we cannot access the wood fuel due to the Government’s ban on logging within the gazetted forests and individual farmers,” said Mr Karua.

He said unless an urgent solution is found, the tea sector was headed into difficult times.

Two-fold

In Murang'a, most of the builders have shifted to use of metal after cost of timber skyrocketed two-fold.

Peter Njuguna, a mason supervising construction sites says in the next four months many of the projects including some funded by the Government will stall because of cost implications.

He said roofing of houses has turned to be the most expensive venture.

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