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Hope as parliament finally approves Tea Bill

By Wainaina Ndung'u | December 2nd 2020
A worker picking tea leaves in one of Kenya's plantations (PHOTO: FILE)

Tea farmers countrywide but especially smallholders could look forward to better fortunes after the Tuesday night passing at Committee Stage of the Tea Bill which is the brainchild of Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruyoit.

The Bill which originated in the Senate was first intended to basically revive the Tea Board of Kenya to help regulate the sector and help market Kenya's tea abroad.

But with a separate push by the government to regulate the sector through subsidiary legislation by Cabinet secretary Peter Munya having fallen by the wayside after a Senate vote, the bill was the only bullet remaining for the sector.

The government thus annexed the bulk of the rejected subsidiary legislation into Cheruyoit's Bill which has been pending at the National Assembly since Senate passed it last year.

The National Assembly Tuesday night sitting that extended late into the night passed the Bill through the committee stage with amendments that favour farmers in the sector and tighten management narrowing the avenues for pilferage.

The Bill now goes to the Third Reading where it is only scrutinised for clarity.

“We really thank God for the journey so far," Cheruyoit said after the NA vote.

The law if it finally comes to fruition will require prompt payment of the farmers proceeds with half within the month of sales and the other half within the next few months.

It will end farmers wait for their money which sometimes meant they endured up to 26 months to get full payments with what has come to be called Bonus coming in October of every year.

The law will also tighten the management of tea factories owned by Smallholder farmers 69 of them in 16 counties in the country.

The factory units which are run as autonomous companies but managed by the farmer-owned Kenya Tea Development Agency (Ktda) Ltd will directly manage their accounts and elections a key contention by farmers who felt that a centralised management system was maliciously used to weed out rebels from becoming directors.

Also to come under government regulation will be the Mombasa Tea Auction with brokers, buyers, and the auction organisers - the East African Tea Trade Association) - subject under new rules.

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A new Tea Levy is to be imposed on all tea sales at the Auction to finance the TBK and the semi-autonomous Tea Research Foundation.

Tea buyers will also be required to promote local value addition according to the Bill which borrowed extensively from the rejected Crops (Tea) Rules and Regulations proposed by Munya.

However, the passage of the bill will most likely open more court rows between the government and industry players some of whom feel that the government was unfairly seeking to enter a sector it left to private players in 2000.

There are currently multiple high court cases challenging the government's attempt to get its hands into the tea sector.

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