Tea factory in Kirinyaga County shut indefinitely after farmers' riots
By Munene Kamau
| August 31st 2016
The troubled Thumaita tea factory in Kirinyaga County has been shut indefinitely. The move comes in the wake of continuous violence by area tea farmers who have been on the rampage over alleged poor bonus payments.
The farmers in their hundreds stormed the factory on Monday and attempted to set it on fire but were repulsed by police.
The unrelenting farmers, however, managed to sneak into the factory later in the day and set ablaze a heap of firewood the facility uses as fuel to process green tea.
The county fire engine, which rushed there shortly after 6 pm, was pelted with stones, forcing the firemen to abandon their mission.
A Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) Communications officer, Mr Ndiga Githae exonerated the agency from any blame, saying the factory is an independent and limited company owned by the farmers through shareholding.
Githae said the agency's key role in the sector is to manage tea and market the commodity on behalf of such factories, and it does not in any way control or determine payment rates.
"As an agency, our roles are clearly defined but the farmers should understand that there are many factors which determine the bonus they are paid. But still, it is the factory directors who have the final word depending on such factors," Githae said when contacted.
Zone Five KTDA director Japtha Karua explained that since the factory vehicles were not secure while going to collect green tea, the only option was to suspend all the operations.
"When these riots started last Friday, the angry farmers, supported by their school-going children, attacked factory staff and burnt down a motorcycle used for field services. On Monday, they razed houses belonging to two of our factory directors and this volatile situation is therefore not conducive for any business," he said.
The official blamed parents for allowing minors to take part in the destructive protests, wondering why they encouraged them to engage in hooliganism.
"Now that the schools have reopened, we will be able to deal with the farmers without their children being involved in the riots, and resolve the contentious issue amicably," Karua said.
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