Tea sector yet to bear fruits despite reforms, say smallholder farmers

Worker sorting tea leaves at Chinga Tea Factory in Othaya, Nyeri, on December 7, 2022. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

A year after the introduction of tea regulations, confusion has greeted the sector with former Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) directors alleging gross mismanagement of resources.

The former KTDA directors have been holding meetings across the Mt Kenya region citing projects they had started that are now crippled, with the current leadership only interested in holding boardroom meetings.

The former directors had last year staged a coup at the headquarters seeking to have the elections conducted and supervised by Agriculture Food Authority (AFA) despite a court order issued in 2021.

Two months ago, the former KTDA directors staged a coup in the factories, a move that sent panic, forcing the current leadership to assemble and repulse them.

Joseph Gachuhi from Gacharage Tea Factory, Kigumo, Murang'a County says tea sector bosses should allow factory directors to face rotational elections, noting that this will help in implementing the reforms

The industry, he observed, was suffering owing to inflated costs in payment of factory directors' allowances and falsifications in green leaf collection at buying centres, among other reasons. "Suspending the rotational election to 2024 is proof of the factories' leadership fear of losing because of their poor management practices and negative interaction with farmers," said Gichuhi.

Mr Gachuhi rooted for a forensic audit of the operations of the directors, noting that more factories are saddled with huge bank loans.

Samuel Muna, a tea farmer in Gatare village, Mathioya said the sector was facing many challenges with farmers expecting more money.

The farmers, Muna said, feel cheated as the directors promised to embark on transforming the sector which has however remained the same. "A lot has been done, but, farmers are still demanding that the price of green leaf be raised from Sh21 to Sh30 per kilogramme," said Mr Muna.


Aberdare Tea Growers Association Chairman Wambugu Gachunji however said the reforms in the tea sector have impacted positively with farmer-friendly directors in office and monthly payments released by the fifth day of every month.

Mr Gachunji, a farmer in Kanyenya-in Tea Factory said despite challenges, the sector's future looks bright, owing to State-backed reforms.

The small-scale tea growers, he observed, are still expecting payment of a mini bonus in January to enable them to send their children to school among other chores. "In Mt Kenya, farmers experienced a delay in the transportation of fertiliser, as the transporters concentrated on transporting the consignment to far places from the SGR terminus due to cost implications," said Wambugu.

Millicent Wanjira, a tea farmer in Kagochi Tea Factory says KTDA projects should be audited after they incurred losses despite millions injected by the factories.

"This a venture started by the former directors which the present officials want to do away with as it was picked as a major investment to benefit the farmers," said Wanjira.

Murang'a zone KTDA board members Chege Kirundi and James Githinji said they have partnered with the State to improve the sector through stabilisation of green leaf prices.

The managers, he said, have explored new markets in West Africa, Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States countries.

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