Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga speaks out on dying tea sector

Former Prime Minister addressing the press after a meeting with players in the tea sector [Photo, Courtesy].
NAIROBI, KENYA: Kenya risks losing income from tea a top foreign exchange earner if drastic action is not taken, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga has said.

In a press statement after consultations with representatives of small-scale farmers and directors from various parts of the country at his office, Raila called for reforms at the Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA), which he said, has lost touch with the farmers.

According to him, the sweeping feeling among farmers is that KTDA has lost touch on the ground putting the country on the path to losing the crop.

“What is coming out clearly is that we risk losing this top foreign exchange earner that has long been associated with our country if we don’t take urgent and drastic action,” he said.

SEE ALSO :Boost for tea farmers as KTDA receives more cheap fertiliser

“It is the usual tale of conflict of interest, lack of transparency, the impunity that includes disobeying court orders, corruption and wrong attitude that has killed many sectors before now getting entrenched in KTDA. We need to urgently address the price gap between auction and retail; which is currently so large. There is no fairness when the tea is auctioned at Sh60 per kg and the farmer is paid Sh18 for the same.”

The former premier noted that the price gap has given rise to briefcase buyers, which is an indication that the system is broken.

“These buyers approach the farmers directly because they know the farmers are broke and have lost faith in the auction system. It has also given rise to hawking of tea. Hawking of tea is illegal,” he said.

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Raila called on the ministry of agriculture to embark on deliberate steps to remove cartels from the tea sector through greater transparency in the selling of tea and payment of farmers.

He called on the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to take interest in the woes of the farmers.

SEE ALSO :KTDA wins Sh53m in contract row

He added the DCI and other relevant agencies need to investigate the goings on at the KTDA and safeguard the interests of the farmers and the nation. “There is certainly something wrong.”

Raila proposed several strategies to revamp the tea sector among them offering better prices to farmers and a forensic audit on the financial management of KTDA.

 “We need to urgently address the price gap between auction and retail; which is currently so large. There is no fairness when the tea is auctioned at Ksh60 per kg and the farmer is paid Ksh18 for the same. The price gap has given rise to briefcase buyers, which is an indication that the system is broken. These buyers approach the farmers directly because they know the farmers are broke and have lost faith in the auction system,” he said.

Audit

Regarding audit, he said, “There is a need for a forensic audit on the financial management of KTDA, its group of companies and all 67 KTDA managed tea factories. Currently, KTDA is not supervised or regulated like banks, insurances or cooperatives. This must be addressed”.

SEE ALSO :Tea farmers brace for 30 per cent decline in KTDA bonus

Raila called on Parliament to come up with legislation to end the agency’s monopoly while at the same time wants it subjected to a forensic audit.

He also asked the Judiciary to play its role and stand with the farmers to save the sector and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to investigate the goings on at the agency.

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KTDARaila OdingaTea