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Blame your tea for low pay, South Rift farmers told

By Nikko Tanui | September 18th 2016
Sammy Langat with some of the workers picking tea on his farm in Kitoben, Bomet County. Langat has seven varieties of tea on his 10 acre farm. [Photo: Andrew Mibei/Standard]

South Rift tea farmers should blame consumer preferences for tea from Eastern region for the low bonuses they receive, Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) Managing Director Lerionka Tiampati says.

He says consumers prefers tea grown in the Eastern region because it is of higher quality, and this affects pricing and bonuses.

“The quality of green leaf is determined by ecological and climatic features such as types of soil and quantity of rainfall, as well as the quality of farm management practices such as application of fertiliser, pruning and plucking,” Mr Tiampati says.

Tea Research Institute (TRI) centre director Samson Kamunya stresses the point, saying that AHP S15/10, which is widely grown by farmers in the West of Rift produces lower quality black tea than TRFK 6/8 grown in the East of Rift.

“Indeed, studies have shown that TRFK 6/8 plucked even at four leaves and a bud produces better quality tea than two leaves and a bud of AHP S15/10,” says Kamunya.

Cultural practices

He adds that besides majority of tea farmers in the East of Rift growing TRFK 6/8, they also apply the recommended cultural practices such as fine plucking (picking two leaves and a bud), which most growers in the West of Rift don’t.

The TRI centre director says the tea growing environment in the Eastern region is also more favourable than that of the Rift Valley.

“For example, temperatures around Mt Kenya and Aberdares are, on average, lower than the temperatures in most of the West Rift tea growing areas. The low temperatures result in slow accumulation of phytochemicals such as polyphenols that influence tea quality,” says Kamunya.

He argues that the higher temperatures and longer rains in the West of Rift favour faster leafy growth with low accumulated phytochemicals, leading to higher yields but lower quality.

Farmers in Kericho and Bomet have complained of low bonuses they expect to get from the Sh84 billion released by KTDA. Of the total amount, the South Rift farmers will only receive Sh13.11 billion.

KTDA’s region five comprising Kericho and Bomet counties host at least seven tea factories and an equal number of satelite factories. The factories are Tegat, Litein, Kapkatet, Momul, Kapkoros, Kapset and Mogosiek. The satelite ones are Toror, Chelal, Tirgaga, Olenguruone, Rorok, Kobel and Boito.

From the region, the highest paying factory, Momul, will give farmers Sh35 per kilo of green leaf as bonus, while the lowest paying, Litein and Chelal, will pay Sh26 per kilo.

In the Eastern region, also known as Region Three, however, the highest paying Munuga Tea Factory will pay suppliers Sh48.35 per kilo of green leaves as bonus.

Tealand Smallholder Tea Farmers Association (TESTEFA) Chairman Richard Cheruiyot says this year’s pittance is the last straw on the 101,045 small-scale farmers’ back. He threatened that they would break away from KTDA and establish a new tea auction in Kericho.

“There is no doubt that Mombasa Tea Auction is controlled by cartels who manipulate tea prices. They consider Western region tea farmers illiterates who understand much less about tea processing and tasting than their Eastern region counterparts. That is why they always end up earning more money than us. We want a transparent tea auction,” says Cheruiyot.

Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony says they will source for tea markets in the US, UK, China and West Africa. “Our idea is the direct tea sale concept, which has been tried successfully by the management of Kokchaik Sacco which, through Finlay’s Tea Company, earns $3 (Sh303) per kilo. There is no reason at all why KTDA should pay farmers as low as Sh26 per kilo of tea as bonus,” says Chepkwony.

His Bomet counterpart Isaac Ruto says smallholder farmers and multinational tea companies in the South Rift account for 68.2 per cent of the country’s tea production and it is only logical to be the location of the major tea auction.

“The Tea Research Foundation (TRF) and some of the most experienced tea managers are in Kericho. We owe the farmers a responsibility to manage the sector and to create the necessary legislative framework to assist in the management,” Ruto said.

Shaky banks

Kipsigis Council of Elders Chairman William Kettienya, a former Tergat Tea Factory director, says farmers’ woes were also caused by KTDA banking in “shaky” institutions, some of which have been placed on receivership by the Central Bank of Kenya.

Tiampati confirmed during the release of this year’s tea bonus payments that Sh4.7 billion was being held in two banks, which went on receivership.

“Some Sh2.9 billion is still being held in Imperial Bank, while Sh1.8 billion is at Chase Bank. We are awaiting orders from Central Bank and the Kenya Depositors Insurance Corporation on the way forward on recovering the money,” he said.

Chase Bank has been re-opened.

Richard Cheruiyot, a former KTDA executive operations director, lamented that although the government had removed the Ad Valorem levy, there were still numerous taxes and levies being charged on tea.

“Notable is the VAT on local tea sales, which suppresses the local uptake of tea. There are also levies charged by KEBS, KEPHIS and health fees, which all amount to about Sh6.10 per kilo of tea annually. These deductions are punitive and should be removed,” says Cheruiyot.

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