Tea harvesting machines torched by irate youth in Kericho

Tea pickers operate a tea picking machine at Nandi Hills in Nandi County. [File, Standard]

Ekaterra Tea Kenya has suffered yet another loss after three more tea harvesting machines were on Monday torched by members of public.

Police reports indicate that irate protestors stormed the estate, set a blaze the machines and destroyed several tea shades in what is suspected to be protest against use of the machines.

The latest incident brings the number machines that have been vandalized to 13.

In October last year, the 10 two-man-held (TMH) tea harvesting machines were set on fire at the Chebown tea estate owned by Ekaterra.

The machines were inside a trailer used to transport them to the tea plantations before it was intercepted and the machines destroyed.

The company through its Corporate Affairs Director Joseph Mitei said it lost property estimated to be worth Sh2.5 million.

Kericho County Police Commander Geoffrey Mayek said the group invaded the tea estate in the wee hours of the morning and burned down the machines and made away with one machine belonging to Kimugu and Chakaik tea estates.

The Police boss said protesters also attacked Ketepa offices where they vandalised an ATM machine and made away with tea leaves.

"We don't know what transpired but we suspect the public is not happy about the machines and how people are being employed at the tea estates," Mayek said.

Police had a hectic time trying to restore order as the protestors had barricaded the Kericho -Nakuru highway near Brooke town causing traffic snarl-up.

There have been increased cases of members invading multinational tea companies in the recent past.

Five days ago more than 40 suspects were arrested in connection with an incident that saw more than 200 youths invade Chemasingi tea Estate owned by James Finlay tea estate in Konoin Sub-county in Bomet County.

During the incident, a police vehicle was torched.

The multinationals tea firms have been under pressure to phase out the mechanisation of tea harvesting.

Last year a taskforce was formed to conduct an extensive review of the multinational tea companies and other tea sub-sector in Kericho, Nandi and Bomet counties.

In March this year, the taskforce in a report recommended a ratio of 60:40 machine harvesting to hand plucking.

The report revealed that technology in the tea industry won’t be wholly wished away and called on the Kericho county government to negotiate with the large-scale tea producers and other tea sub-sector with a view to achieving a win-win situation.

The taskforce further recommended legislation to control the importation of heavy mechanisation (valiant tea harvesting machines) to be enacted at both the national and county governments.