Poor leaf quality is to blame for the disparity in the tea bonus earnings between farmers in Kenya Tea Development Agencies (KTDA) in East of Rift and those in the West.
East Africa Trade Association Managing Director Mr Edward Mudibo said for the tea farmers in the western side of Rift to earn more, they should not only target tea volumes but also focus on the quality. “That is what attracts buyers to pay a higher price for even a small quality of tea produced,” he said.
Mr Mudibo added: “Our appeal to the farmers is to be keen on the crop husbandry and in terms of what is delivered to various tea collection centres and factories so that they can earn a little bit much more."
Mr Mudibo made the remarks during an event organised by Solidaridad, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to responsible food production.
Factories on the other side, in Nyeri, Murang'a, Kiambu, Embu and Meru receive higher bonuses compared.
Farmers in Embu, for instance, earned Sh10 for every kilogramme, continuing their dominance as one of the best-paid growers in the country. Their counterparts in Murang’a earned the second-highest mini-bonus of Sh7, while factories in Kiambu paid Sh6 for the same quantity.
Factories in the West of the Rift earned between Sh2 and Sh5 per kilogramme.
The payment of bonuses has always been controversial, with the factories, especially those in Kericho, Bomet and Tran Nzoia, saying they are shortchanged by KTDA management.
A kilogramme of tea currently retails at $2.30 at the Mombasa auction.
KTDA chairperson Mr David Ichoho confirmed that a total Sh3 billion mini bonus had been paid to 400,000 farmers in all KTDA managed factories.
He said reforms in the tea sector and production of improved tea quality pushed this year’s bonus to increase by Sh1.2 billion. "Unlike last year where framers pocketed Sh1.8 billion in mini bonus, this year the amount has increased to Sh3 billion," said Ichoho.
Dr Evelyn Charamgoi, a researcher with the Tea Research Institute explained that besides the poor leaf, tea clones also have an impact on the earnings. “Some clones are good for manufacturing black CTC while others are good for manufacturing green teas,” she said.
Cheramgoi revealed that some of the clones planted in the west of Rift may not be suitable for the manufacturing of black CTC teas. “The area altitude also determines the quality of tea. In high altitudes where tea takes long to produce shoots, the quality compounds increase making the quality improve,” he said.
Cheramgoi added that the quality of tea can also be determined by the tea processing process by individual tea factories.
The other factor includes the cost of production and the loans farmers are servicing.