Tea money: Season of temporary insanity is here

By Edwin cheserek and Charles Ng’eno

The Kenya Tea Development Agency has pumped millions of shillings into the bank accounts of farmers but most of the beneficiaries are trapped in a life of misery.

A survey by The County Weekly in the tea growing zones show many of the farmers are already penniless, only weeks after earning the boom either because of huge debts they owe to banks, micro-finance agencies or have swallowed all their money in entertainment joints in towns like Kericho, Kapsabet, Kiambu, Bomet and Nandi where lifestyles have suddenly changed as everyone tries to get a piece of the farmer’s sweat.

Bonus period

In Eldoret, a street famed as the home of twilight girls has been deserted after the women migrated to other towns closer to the tea belts.

Indeed, the bonus period has attracted thousands of commercial sex workers who are trooping to the towns to siphon the money from the farmers.

Entertainment joints spread across the tea zones are raking in a lot of money courtesy of the ‘millionaires who are on the spending spree.

Lodging operators are recording brisk business as the ‘rich’ men entertain newly found and old girl friends following their elevated social status. “This is out turn to enrich ourselves from the tea bonus using any means because we have what this rich men are after,” said Cecilia, a sex worker in Kapsabet.

She discloses that is a brisk business, as men in these tea zones are not bargaining much but dishing out money to those in sight.

“We are not complaining, we can take as many as five clients a day and most of them are paying handsome amounts for the services we offer,” added another lady who only gives her name as Jane from Kisii.

She says that unlike the previous years, her clients were more conscious on having safe sex with some preferring to know a women’s status first.

“Although we are recording an increasing volume of sales this season, there is also the challenge of meeting demands for contraceptives,” said Caleb Kibet, a bar owner in Kapsabet town.

“While we are having good time with the farmers, some are losing thousands of shillings to pick-pocketers and concubines as they are fleeced when drunk,” noted Priscah, another sex worker. The law enforcers are also said to be on the looting spree in the name of implementing the Mututho laws.

It is alleged that some of them conspire with commercial sex workers to rob those who walk into entertainment joints before the stipulated time.

Temporary richness

Most of the farmers have been seen staggering out of drinking dens after having  too much while others have been seen heading towards lodgings with young lasses in tow.

Provincial administrators in the zones say the bonus is more of a curse than blessing to the growers as it makes them go into momentary madness with their newly found, albeit temporary richness.

In Bomet County the story is different. Most of the farmers have spent all their boom settling debts owed to Micro-finance agencies.

Take the case of Christine Bett from Mogogosiek Location. She took a Sh100,000 loan from one of the agencies to start a restaurant business. They used their motorbike, title deed and their two dairy cows as collateral for the loan, hoping that the tea bonus would help them repay it.

Then they suddenly became too generous, buying expensive clothes and lending out the money to friends.

She lent some money to friends and within three days she had only Sh30,000. Of course she did not begin the intended restaurant business yet she had a loan to repay. She was expected to remit Sh9,000 for 18 months.

An only option

A month down the line, the micro-finance was threatening to auction their two dairy cows and the motorbike because she had defaulted in the loan repayment. They had only one option: lease their two-acre tea bushes.

Such is the scenario for several tea farmers who approached lending institutions in Bomet County. The much publicised bonus season may not mean much to them.

According to Mogogosiek Location Chief David Langat most households have been forced to lease their tea bushes because they approached banks and other lending institutions without first being trained on how to invest their loans.

“We have had cases of family property being auctioned because those who had been loaned had failed to honour their monthly repayment. A few rich have taken advantage of their predicament to buy their tea at very low prices,” said Langat.

Sot Tea Growers Saving and Credit Society CEO Mr Leonard Sang agreed that most farmers would not be earning much during this bonus season since most of them committed their bonus to loans.

“The 12,000 members in our Sacco owe us over Sh170 million which we shall be deducting from their bonuses.  Most of them will be going home empty handed,” said Sang.

Sang said they have been forced to limit the farmers borrowing since some will borrow beyond their expected amount. He opined that loans have boosted the farmers because a majority of those borrowing have been using the loans to finance their children’s education.

Mogogosiek Factory Board of Directors chairman Mr Ronald Ng’eny concurred that the much talked about bonus boom will have little effect on the farmers since farmers committed it in loans that went to school fees and leisure.

He refuted claims that there has been an influx of prostitutes in the area because of the anticipated pay. He appealed to all lending institutions in the area to educate farmers on how to invest their loans so as to avoid cases of misappropriation by farmers.