Little to celebrate in tea mini bonus

A tea farmer in Mathira, Nyeri County. There has been no change in this year's mini bonus. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Farmers affiliated to Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) factories in Mt Kenya region will be paid a mini bonus of Sh5 per kilo of green leaf delivered between July and December last year.

The growers, majority of them small holders, are expected to start receiving the payments at the end of the month.

The mini bonus rate has remained the same over the years, with hopes of some improvement this year dimmed by a global economic meltdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

So far, only Rukuriri Tea Factory in Embu has resolved to pay its farmers more, announcing a mini bonus of Sh10.5 per kilo.

According to the directors of the factory, the higher bonus came after positive revenue flows last year and is equivalent to 30 per cent of this year’s payments.

Joshua Kanake, representing Upper Kyeni North Zone, said the factory’s board of directors had written to KTDA to approve the rate.

Although KTDA had advised for a uniform rate of Sh5 for all tea factories affiliated to the agency in the region, the directors at Rukuriri say the amount was not responsive to the needs of farmers living in hard economic times.  

“In April last year, we collected the views of farmers on bonuses after a directive by the Agriculture ministry and agreed on the payment rates,” said Kanake.

Another director, Peter Njagi, said the board agreed on a rate of Sh10.5 to enable farmers meet pressing needs in the wake of Covid-19.

Alex Muriithi, a director representing Mbui Njeru North zone, called on KTDA and the government to search for newer markets for the commodity, considering current increased production and shutdown in key international markets.

“We have received adequate rainfall lately and expect production to rise,” he said.

The directors expressed hope that the tea auction at Mombasa will not be disrupted by raging Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, factory directors in the larger part of Mt Kenya region defended the Sh5 mini-bonus, saying the figure was agreed on in board meetings.

According to KTDA regional manager in charge of Murang’a and Nyeri counties, Peter Kinyua, boards of directors in charge of various factories in the region met and approved the mini bonus rate.

The directors appealed to farmers to increase tea production this year.

“I encourage all farmers to increase production to get better payments,” said James Muchai, a director at Makomboki Tea Factory in Kigumo.

A number of farmers said they were anticipating more.

“At this time of the year, farmers are looking for money to take their children back to school,” said Wambugu Gachunji. 

Peter Kihungi, who has been fighting for better payments, called on KTDA to address small-holder farmers’ concerns.

In Meru, all the seven tea factories have already paid farmers an interim bonus alongside monthly payments for leaf delivered in March.

Meru KTDA regional director Paul Ringera said respective factory boards in Meru have elected to go with the recommendation of their management agents, which capped the interim bonus at Sh5 per kilo.

“Tea prices at the Mombasa auction remain depressed due to the coronavirus crisis worldwide,” said Mr Ringera.

The director said many factories continue to hold huge unsold stocks and paying anything above Sh5 would strain their finances.