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Kenya's ailing tea sector calls for better management

By The Standard | July 25th 2016

NAIROBI: The tea sector in Kenya has in the recent past faced numerous challenges. In 2014, the prices of tea hit an all-time low because of poor demand for the commodity on the international market.

The same year, over 4,000 tea farmers in Nandi County threatened to stop picking tea if the county government proceeded with plans to charge a new levy of Sh1 per kilo of tea as proposed in the Nandi County Finance bill 2014.

The liberalisation of the tea industry in 2014 also saw cartels come up that were buying tea from farmers at lower prices. Many tea farmers were forced to sell their crop to tea-buying cartels to avoid having it go to waste.

Early this month, tea pickers in Nandi County went on a week-long strike demanding better pay. The strike occasioned losses amounting to Sh300 million. However, there is hope all this glum will be a thing of the past.

The national government has made proposals that will see the transfer of some functions to county governments where it is hoped they will be better managed. These include registration of tea nurseries, the movement of green leaf and the establishment of cottage industries.

This move is welcome inasmuch as agriculture is a devolved function and county governments really need to play an active role in the management of tea, especially in areas where it is the main cash crop.

The idea of encouraging cottage tea industries will go a long way in creating employment for locals as the case of Muranga County illustrates.

With 10 tea processing factories, Muranga County earned Sh13 billion from the overall total of Sh125 billion that tea exports earned last year. Counties must however demonstrate that they will be able to manage the tea sector for the benefit of the farmer and country at large.

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