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After tea, reform coffee, pyrethrum farming

COMMENTARY
By David Kigochi | April 25th 2020

Away from the gloom brought about by the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, the State has announced reforms that will transform the tea sector.

The reforms, which borrow heavily from the task force that was chaired by Kagiri Kamatu, are timely. The team, which was appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta to look into ways of improving tea farmers’ earnings, made proposals that included restructuring the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) and reviewing its contracts with farmers, reduction of levies and establishment of a regulator for the industry. 

Other recommendations were a review of the governance of the small-scale tea sub-sector, particularly in terms of employees of KTDA and directors of KTDA Holdings being board members of tea factories. Further, all earnings from the tea auction will be remitted directly to individual factories as opposed to the current practice where the returns are held centrally in KTDA accounts. Equally, the role of KTDA in tea exports will cease as the law outlaws direct sale overseas, besides capping management fees levied on farmer-owned factories to two per cent as opposed to 2.5 per cent at the moment. These reforms are critical in revitalising the sorry state in the tea sub-sector to ensure farmers, whose interests we advocate, get value for their toil. 

Agriculture CS Peter Munya should now move with speed to ensure all tea buyers submit to the regulatory authority – Agriculture Food Authority – a performance bond in the form of a bank guarantee equivalent to 10 per cent of the estimated value of the tea they intend to buy.

This is one way of breaking the cartels and brokers who have for long exploited tea farmers.

Our appeal is to the government to now focus on the coffee sector, which has been crying for attention.

The voice of Kenya should be loud and clear when producers, through the International Coffee Organisation, meet during the world coffee producers’ forum in Brazil in July to discuss the problems affecting the sector. Sadly, coffee production in Kenya today oscillates between 40,000 and 50,000 metric tonnes compared to about 130,000 metric tonnes produced in the 1987-88 coffee year.

Equally, the area under coffee has for the last two decades dropped to 114,500 hectares from 170,000 hectares, a factor that has also contributed to the decrease in production.

Decreasing prices

The poor prices have forced farmers to embark on inter-cropping macadamia, avocados and other crops with coffee to boost their earnings. It is time reforms were made in the coffee sector to reduce production costs for farmers, as well as stimulate more production to tame the effects of decreasing prices on farmers both locally and globally.

Other measures include operationalisation of the Sh3 billion coffee cherry revolving fund, institutional support, intensive marketing of Kenyan coffee and an audit of coffee farmers’ co-operative societies.

Kenyans should also be encouraged to consume coffee like in Ethiopia and Columbia where local consumption is high, resulting in good earnings for farmers.

After coffee, the focus should be pyrethrum, a crop that produces pyrethrins used as natural insecticides. Kenya used to be the dominant pyrethrum producer in the world market for 60 years until 2003 when it lost the position. Up to the late 1990s, Kenya provided 70 per cent of the global supply. Now, its current share is two per cent.

Over time, production declined and Kenya lost the opportunity to Australia, which took over the market, with the island state of Tasmania taking over growing and processing in early 2000.

By 2010, Tasmania controlled 65 per cent of the world’s pyrethrum production. Other top producers that emerged are China, Rwanda and Tanzania, who control the world market now. Interestingly, at its peak in 1992-93, Kenya produced a record 17,710 tonnes of flowers. All we need are sound policies like those proposed for the tea sector.

The writer is the leader of the Farmers Party. Email: [email protected]

Covid 19 Time Series

 

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