Three under probe after 10 tea harvesters burnt

Ten tea harvesting machines were burnt at Chebown Tea Estate in Kericho County. [File, Standard]

Ten tea harvesting machines yesterday went up in flames at Chebown Tea Estate in Kericho County.

The incident at the farm belonging to Ekaterra Company marks an ugly turn in the fight against the mechanisation of tea harvesting in the county.

Ekaterra Corporate Affairs Director Joseph Mitei and Belgut OCPD Ezekiel Kiche separately confirmed the incident, which has shaken the multinational tea firm formerly known as Unilever Tea (K).

Kiche blamed the incident on arsonists, saying the 10 two-man-held (TMH) machines were set on fire at 6am inside a trailer used to transport them to the tea plantations.

"The machines were burnt as the company was in the process of distributing them to the operators," he said.

The company is estimated to have lost over Sh2.5 million in the destruction of the machines and the carrier.

Kiche said they were interrogating the machine operator, a mechanic, and one more suspect over the incident.

"The three suspects were the immediate persons in the vicinity when the incident occurred. What we want to know is what they know about it or what they might have seen," he said.

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai urged the residents not to take the law into their own hands.

He said the multinationals have the potential to create jobs.

"It is in the public domain that I have on many occasions made my stand known with regards to mechanisation that has rendered our people jobless," he said.

Dr Mutai expressed a concern that Kericho County Hospital generates Sh164 million in revenue, which is Sh17 million more than what the county earns from the multinational tea firms that have leased 200,000 acres of land.

"The multinational tea firms lease land at Sh264 per acre. That translates to about Sh147 million for the land they occupy in Kericho," he said.