Tea farmers are pushing for an independent body to issue minimal standards for producing and exporting Kenya’s leading foreign exchange earner.
Through the Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA), the farmers are asking the government to merge all the bodies responsible for formulating production and marketing standards across the country.
This is even as farmers feel that such standards do not necessarily translate into profits and thus improved livelihoods.
Besides, according to the producers, most standards have been found to be an unnecessary overhead cost since the people who benefit most from them are other players in the value chain.
“At the same time, we are asking for the introduction of Marks of Origin and Geographical Indications so that our teas are properly identified and positioned for better price outcomes,” said KTGA CEO Apollo Kiarii.
In addition, he supported a proposal for farmers to have a national tea trading finance bank to enable them access affordable loans.
The sentiments come despite the existence of the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) which has a whole directorate dedicated to the implementation of tea production and marketing.
However, farmers say the authority does not have the capacity to represent their interests, and that it is not an “independent” organisation.
Besides, KTGA says the standards advocated by AFA through the Tea Industry Code of Practice or KS:2128 require what most farmers have no capacity to implement.
“Most of the requirements pushed on farmers are advocated by foreign bodies whose motives are not necessarily good either for the farmer or the country,” said Mr Kiarii.
At the same time, the chairman said the multiplicity of standards in the country calls for the merger of certification bodies, cross-recognition of certifications and combined audits to cut down on “fatigue” as well as cost for farmers.
His sentiments were supported by East African Tea Trade Association Managing Director Edward Mudibo who proposed TradeMark East Africa as the most appropriate entity to entrust with the responsibility for formulating standards for tea growers across the country.
“We are suggesting TradeMark East Africa because it has the resources and the independence needed to represent the interests of tea farmers,” said Mr Mudibo.
The industry chiefs spoke at a Voluntary Sustainability Standards and Certifications (VSS) workshop in Nairobi this week.
The one-day stakeholder engagement was organised by the Kenya Tea Directorate in partnership with several local and international organisations.