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Hope for tea farmers as Parliament passes new law

News By Wainaina Ndung’u | December 3rd 2020 at 07:36:22 GMT +0300

Margret Muthoni picks tea leaves at her farm at Kigogo-ini village in Tetu, Nyeri County, on February 26. MPs have passed a new law to improve the sector. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Tea farmers can look forward to better days ahead after MPs passed a law seeking to revitalise the sector.

On Tuesday night, the House passed the Tea Bill, a brainchild of Kericho senator Aaron Cheruiyot, which is intended to revive the Tea Board of Kenya, regulate the sector and market Kenya’s tea abroad.

With a separate push by the government to regulate the sector, through subsidiary legislation by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, having fallen by the wayside after a Senate vote, the new Bill was viewed as the only remaining hope to revitalise the sector.

The government has thus annexed the bulk of the rejected subsidiary legislation into Cheruyoit’s Bill which has been pending before the National Assembly since the Senate passed it last year.

The National Assembly, during the Tuesday’s sitting that extended late into the night, passed the Bill through the Committee Stage, also known as third reading, with amendments that largely favour the smallholder farmer. The new law tightens management while narrowing avenues for pilferage. 

The Bill will now go back to the Senate for final approval and mediation in case senators find they are not in concurrence with any of the changes the National Assembly has made.

Tuesday’s session was chaired by Laikipia West MP Patrick Mariru, who is one of the Speaker’s Panel members. There were more than 40 proposed amendments by the National Assembly Agriculture and Livestock Committee chaired by Moiben MP Silas Tiren.

An amendment by Ben Momanyi (Borabu) proposing a clause that those dissatisfied with ministerial proposals in the Act could seek court action was rejected. 

The law, if it comes into force, will require payment of farmers (half of the amount) within the month of sales and the other half within the following few months.

This will address the long periods of time, sometimes of up to 16 months, that farmers have had to wait for payment. What has come to be known as ‘tea bonus’ has been coming in October for tea produced between July of the previous year to June of that year.

The law will also seek to improve managements of the 69 tea factories owned by smallholder farmers in 21 counties. The factory units are run as autonomous companies but managed by the farmers-owned Kenya Tea Development Agency.

“We made it. All critical amendments, for example; one man one vote, reduction of management fees from 2.5 per cent of factory turnover to 1.5 per cent and outlawing of direct sales, were passed,” South Imenti MP Kathuri Murungi said.

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