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Farmers upbeat as Senate sits to debate tea laws

A section of tea farmers outside Milimani Court. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Tea farmers are expected to get an early Christmas gift, as Senate special sitting today considers approval of the final Tea Act.

Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka on Friday gazetted Monday’s 2.30pm meeting as a special sitting. Standing Order 30 of the Senate allows the convening of special sittings, and this was requested by Senate Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio, supported by the required number of members.

“The business to be transacted at the sitting shall be the consideration of the amendments of the National Assembly to the Tea Bill, Senate Bills No 36 of 2018,” Lusaka said in his notice yesterday. He added that Standing Order 30(5) of the Senate specified that only the business in the notice shall be discussed during the special sitting.

When the Senate completes the deliberations on the Tea Act, which was approved by the National Assembly in another marathon session that went on till 11pm two weeks ago, it shall stand adjourned until February 9, 2021, at 2.30pm in accordance with the Senate calendar.

Farmers such as the Tea Reforms Action Group, led by former Chinga Tea Factory chairman Ndegwa Wanyaga, have been calling for the special sitting to consider the changes to the Tea Act that originated in the Senate, and is a brainchild of Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot.

The Act approved by Senate last year before it was sent to the National Assembly proved crucial to the Ministry of Agriculture, which annexed through amendments the rejected subsidiary legislation championed by Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.

The amendments happened at the National Assembly and the Bill has returned to Senate for final concurrence before it is sent to the President for approval or referred to the mediation committee in case of dissent.

The Senate committee on Agriculture and Livestock Development, chaired by Embu Senator Njeru Ndwiga, has ratified the changes and its report comes to the full plenary today.

South Imenti MP Kathuri Murungi, who championed the reforms at the National Assembly, thanked Senate leadership for its ingenuity to pass the Bill.

“We are thankful that the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Livestock also worked through a recess to approve our amendments. Clearly, everyone on the chain has worked hard to realise the reforms, especially after the president gave his approval in February,” said Kathuri.

The Tea Act will streamline the industry and bring back the Tea Board of Kenya (TBK), which was collapsed with other agricultural agencies into the Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Authority in an austerity measure in 2015.

It will also bring management of small-holder tea factories, the Mombasa Tea Auction, and the whole tea value chain under TBK regulation, tightening the sector since the government exited direct control in 2000.

Farmers have welcomed the reforms. John Chebchok, who champions the reforms in Tergat-Torror Tea Factory in Bomet County, said it was their only hope of redeeming a sector held hostage by commercial interests.

Meanwhile, Mr Munya on Friday gazetted a new task-force that will draw a roadmap to implement the National Co-operative Policy.

The task-force will develop a framework for implementation of the National Co-operative Policy Interventions.

It will also review the Co-operative Legislation and recommend co-operative institutional reforms and co-operative capacity building.

Members include Co-operative Insurance Company former chief executive Nelson Kuria as chair, former Meru Public Service Chief Officer during Munya’s tenure, Moses Murianki Nabea, and Alexander Nyamai Mutisya as independent members.

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