Tea Summit: Farmers want second auction set up outside Mombasa

Elgeiyo Marakwet governor Wesley Rotich, Kericho Governor Eric Mutai, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua,Roads CS Kipchumba Murkomen and Transzoia senator Alan Chesang during Tea Reforms Conference in Kericho on July 6, 2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Tea farmers have called for the establishment of a second tea auction outside Mombasa.

Speaking in Kericho during the Tea Reforms Conference chaired by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, farmers called on the government to address various  issues that have crippled the sector.

Among concerns raised are cartels in the sector, use of tea harvesting machines, corruption and embezzlement of funds, and low prices. Farmers also called for the waiver of loans and empowerment of the Tea Board of Kenya.

Manyatta MP Mukunji Gitonga called for the digitisation of tea auctions. He said the Tea Board should find an alternative market for the country’s tea.

“I want to know why we have not embraced digitisation to allow farmers access as many clients as possible,” he said.

Bomet Governor Hillary Barchok sought to know which mode of sale - between direct and auctions - earned farmers more money.

Soin Sigowet MP Kipsang Kemei said his was the only constituency producing tea, but without a processing factory.

Mr Richard Cheruiyot, the chairman of the Tea-land Smallholder Tea Farmers Association (Testefa), submitted a petition advocating for a modernised marketing of the crop.

Mr Cheruiyot proposed the adoption of an E-auction Integrated Tea Trading System, which will leverage on innovative technology. Mr Cheruiyot said smallholders aimed at offering substantial quantity of tea at the proposed Kericho Tea Auction.

“The targeted production is set to range between 200-250 million kilogrammes of made-tea annually, predominantly sourced from the smallholder tea sub-sector, as well as multinational tea companies and independent producers,” said Mr Cheruiyot.

Mr Cheruiyot cited Pakistan, Egypt, the UK, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and the UAE as potential markets for the tea, albeit in smaller quantities.

“The inaugural Kericho Tea Auction will be the second in Kenya, third in Africa, and 15th in the world,” said Mr Cheruiyot of his proposal.

He said the remaining 450 million kilogrammes of made-tea produced in the country will continue to be auctioned at the Mombasa Tea Auction.

Last year, Mombasa auction oversaw the handling of an impressive 545,954,000 kilogrammes of made-tea.

In 2020, a new auction was launched in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, marking a significant development in the African tea industry.

The two-day tea conference brought together farmers from across the country who want the sector streamlined to improve their profits.

Mr Benard Yegon, from Kericho, asked the government to deal with cartels. He faulted the use of tea harvesting machines, saying locals had been rendered jobless and quality of leaf compromised. This, he said, had a backlash in that farmers earned less due to the poor quality of tea delivered for sale.

The farmers said the combination of Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA) and private processors had made their lives difficult.

Farmers questioned why the Tea Board of Kenya was unable to regulate the sector.

Mr Joel Chepkwony, while apologising for “rogue residents” who set ablaze tea companies’ property, including tea machines, sought to have the firms surrender 3,000 acres to the people. 

“Kericho is facing an economic crisis, with high unemployment caused by use of tea harvesters. Let’s balance between the machines and jobs,” said Mr Joseph Rotich.

Mr Patrick Ngunjiri, a smallholder Nyeri farmer, advocated for a democratic system of electing KTDA officials. “We crave a one-grower-one-vote system in picking company directors. For instance, the use of weighted shares in my factory saw one director serve for 39 years,” he said.

Mr Ngunjiri lamented that a law on the use of one-grower-one-vote system system remained suspended, adding that the Tea Act was just but a shell. Farmers were bogged down by court cases, he said, and called for their withdrawal.

He added that they were forced to seek certifications that cost factories millions, and that it was time for the country to put in place its own.

Mr Amos Ng’eno, for the youth, faulted tea research and asked the Tea Board to channel more funds to field studies.

KTDA chair David Ichoho said their focus was centred on farmers’ welfare, and cartels will be dealt with.

East Africa Tea Trade Association chair Arthur Sewe said the law did not bar another tea auction. “Anyone is free to set up by following guidelines,” he said.

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