Tea farming giants oppose community's claim to land

Kenya Tea Growers Association Chief Executive Officer Apollo Kiarii. [File, Standard]

Large-scale tea producers in Kericho, Bomet, and Nyamira counties have opposed a petition by Kipsigis, Talai, and Borowo communities to take away the huge parcels of land in their possession.

The petition lodged at the Senate claims that Unilever Tea Kenya (Brook Bond), James Finlay Kenya (African Highlands), George Williamson (Changoi and Lelsa), Sotik Tea, Sotik Highlands, Kaisugu Tea, Mau Tea, Koru, and Fort Tenan farms are some of the parcels grabbed from the Kipsigis community.

The tea producers said that their contribution to the economy through foreign exchange earnings, direct employment, economic activities, community, and Corporate Social Responsibility pumps at least Sh6.4 billion annually to the economy and that it would be a big loss if their land is taken away.

Appearing before the Senate Justice, Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee chaired by Hillary Sigei (Bomet Senator), the large-scale tea producers emphasised that their sector is among the highest tax-payers category to the national government and that it would be unwise to destabilise them.

Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) Chief Executive Officer Apollo Kiarii told the committee that from the viewpoint of commercial entities holding land for investment purposes, there was a need for conclusiveness of procedures and claims to avoid compromising national interests in attracting investments and sustaining growth.

“The operations of Large Scale Tea Producers traverses Kericho, Bomet and Nyamira Counties with the members of the local communities employed by the firms’ accounts for between 55 – 89 per cent and that they stand to lose if anything happens to the organisation offering them employment,” said Mr Kiarii.

Mr Kiarii informed the committee that the organisations pump in a total of Sh 6.4 billion into the local economy with Sh1.8 billion going to local procurement of goods and services per annum around Kericho and Bomet Counties with Sh800 million being spent on Corporate Social Responsibility projects in Kericho and Bomet Counties over the last four years.

The CEO said that the large-scale tea producers are part of a crucial economic sub-sector that independently and collectively supports infrastructure development in educational institutions, student scholarships and bursaries as well as Health facilities for the local communities.

Kiarii said they are committed to ensuring that the companies offer decent salaries to their workers besides the local communities benefiting from projects they support such as the development of water supply facilities, infrastructure development, and maintenance of roads in tea catchment areas. 

“The large-scale tea producers have been annually pumping approximately Sh75 million in Kericho and Bomet counties where 60,000 small-holder farmers’ tea is processed and marketed by the firms in Kericho, Bomet, and Nyamira regions,” said Kiarii.