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Forgotten lot? Even with changes, growers in Gusii land not out of the woods just yet

A woman collects firewood from Kerito Tea Estate in Nyamira County on 2/5/2021. The estate management allows residents to collect dry tea cuttings which they use as firewood in their homes. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Tea farmers in Gusii land are still feeling the heat following dwindling earnings from their tea produce.

Tea, which is the only remaining stable cash crop in the region, has been contributing to nearly 80 per cent of the region’s economy.

Some experts say some of the tea factories had for years failed to implement simple policies including managerial that help reduce production cost and boost efficiency.

Jones Nyabio, a tea industry expert notes that a factory whose tea was sold at a higher price will obviously get more than one whose tea was auctioned for less; depending on quality.

Tellingly, many leaders from the region have remained silent on the matter with farmers left without any better option.

The establishment of two private tea companies in the region; Mogeni Tea in  Nyamira County and Mara Tea Factory at Kiango area along the Kisii-Narok border have mostly benefited farmers living in adjacent areas.

A spot check by The Smart Harvest shows that in Nyamira, the recent reforms in the tea sector are yet to be felt by the small-scale farmers on the ground. 

The better prices that were expected in this year’s bonus pay-outs has not trickled down to the farmers.

The highest bonus rate paid to farmers who sell their tea to Nyansiongo Factory while the lowest was Kiamokama that paid farmers Sh5.

In Kenya, the highest factory paid its farmers Sh30. According to Nelson Mokaya, a director at Nyankoba Tea Factory which is one of the oldest processing industries in the county, with the reforms, they hope that the disparity in bonus pay-outs will be addressed.

“There is a difference in the cost of production because it factory has its unique challenges that affect farmers profit margins. Going forward, solutions like modernising our production plants are key,” Mokaya said.

Nelson Onduko, the chair of Kebirigo Tea Factory says the situation of tea factories in Gusii is worse, compared to other regions. “We are disadvantaged because of poor road networks, underperformance, and high cost of processing the green tea,” Onduko says.

Heavy machine breakdowns and lack of efficiency in transport systems make it difficult for the factories to continue operating, according to Onduko.

He cites the presence of multinational companies as a reason for underperformance in production scales. “The multinational companies buy tea that should be processed by the farmer-owned factories. This is a big challenge to us.” 

Richard Maengwe, a farmer who sells his green tea to Nyankoba Factory says there are many challenges that bedevil the sector. “Corruption still thrives in the industry, something we need to fight by all means,” Maengwe says.

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