Commercial sex workers and other con artists who used to flock to tea-growing counties such as Kericho and Bomet are now finding it harder to lure tea farmers due to increased financial literacy.
Joel “Maendelo” Chepkwony, a prominent farmer in Kericho county, recalls that back in the '80s and 90s when the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) released tea bonuses, twilight girls would take over bars and restaurants as well as Kericho town's streets.
"I know of a farmer who was lured by a prostitute into a lodging in the town where he was drugged and conned over Sh100,000. He is one of the many farmers who were conned in a similar fashion," he said.
James Cheruiyot added that when it wasn't the commercial sex workers having a field day, it was a con artist who would defraud gullible farmers' non-existence properties such as land or motor vehicles.
"Such criminals would for instance walk around with fake title deeds posing as land sellers only to vanish into thin air after swindling a farmer leaving him or her holding fake land documents," said Cheruiyot.
But such incidents are now rare.
Financial literacy and the rise of Saving and Savings and Credit Co-operative Societies (Saccos) have made tea farmers wiser and they are no longer easy prey to twilight girls and other cons.
One of the leading Sacco in safeguarding tea farmers and their earnings is Kenya Highlands Sacco.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alice Koskei said the Sacco was registered in 1991 to address the financial challenges tea farmers were grappling with.
The Sacco has around 70,000 tea farmers who channel their tea proceeds through it.
"The Sacco is a brainchild of small-holder tea farmers under Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) who supply green leaf to Tegat tea factory. They were thereafter joined by their counterparts from Momul and Toror satellite factories," she said.
The CEO said after the establishment of the Sacco what followed was financial training and investment advice to the farmers.
"The first thing was to advise the farmers to draw up sound financial plans for the money and withdraw it in instalments," said Koskei.
She added, "This was a change of approach from the days they were left by commercial banks to withdraw all the tea bonus from their accounts leading to misuse of the tea bonus and exposure to commercial sex workers and conmen," she said.
Koskei indicated that Sh200 million of tea proceeds is channelled monthly through the Sacco which has five branches; Kapsoit (Headquarters), Kericho, Kabianga, Litein, and Silibwet in the neighbouring Bomet county.
"The branches were opened to take services closer to our members. We also have 21 agents spread across Kericho and Bomet county," she said.
Koskei said this was a masterstroke against the criminal elements who used to prey on the tea farmers during bonus payout in Sacco's loan advance products.
"Based on a farmer's tea production and projected earning, a farmer can take school fees, farm or development loan product. The amount can be as little as Sh20,000 to as high Sh4 million at an interest rate of 12 per cent on reducing balance," she said.
At the end of the year, the Sacco members also earn dividends, which is also another reason which made them ditch conventional commercial banks.
"After deducting the Sacco's recurrent expenditure, the surplus money is released to the members at not less than 13 per cent," said Koskei.
On the other hand, Imarisha Sacco which in 2014 rebranded from Kipsigis Saving and Credit Cooperative Society (Sacco), has 7,000 tea farmers drawn from Kericho, Bomet, and Nandi as its members.
Changing farmers' fortunes
The Sacco's Deputy Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ernest Langat argued that since the Saccos took root in the county, the farmers' fortunes had taken an award curve due to financial literacy training, saving plans, and low-interest loans.
"Even if a farmer doesn't have an immediate plan for the tea bonus, they can earn a good sum by opting for our saving plan or buy the Sacco's shares whereby they can earn dividends at 12 per cent," he said.
Langat added that tea bonuses nowadays end up paying the financial advance farmers have taken.
"As any salaried remember, we advance money to farmers and apply standing orders to deduct the money from their tea proceeds," he said.
The farmers are eligible for the Kilimo advance loan product which attracts a 12 per cent interest rate on reducing balance.
The product allows farmers to reinvest in their farms a contrast to the era they would wait for the tea bonus to for instance plough and expand their tea farms.
"The farmers are now wiser. You will hardly find a farmer misusing tea bonus anymore through impulse expenditure," he said.
The success of Kericho's Sacco recently saw 16 Ghana's Savings and Credit Co-operative Society (Sacco) to benchmark with ImarishaDr. Bernard Bingab the President and the Board Chair of Ghana Sacco's said they were impressed by Sacco's phenomenal growth having which hit Sh14.1B at the height of Covid-19.
"In Ghana, Saving and Credit Society (Sacco) membership is around 1 million people which is too low compared to Kenya where millions are registered members of various Saccos," he said.
Dr Bingab said cooperative societies play a key role in creating wealth for members and offering services where big financial institutions can't be found.
Imarisha Sacco CEO Mathew Rotich attributed the institution's growth to the vision of providing efficient financial services to its customers through continuous innovation.
"We continue to align ourselves to the vision of being a Sacco with a customer-centric experience," he said.