We'll enforce law for smallholder tea farmer to reap maximum benefits, says Gachagua

A tea picker at Ndugamano village in Nyeri County. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

The Tea Act 2020 will be implemented fully to enable smallholder tea farmers to benefit from the produce, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has said.

Speaking at the start of a two-day conference on tea reforms in Kericho County which started on Thursday July 6, 2023, Gachagua criticized the previous administration over what he termed as its reluctance to enforce the law.

This, he said, gave room to some players in the tea industry to continue to operate as they did before the legislation was passed, in the process hurting farmers.

"Some players in the tea sector are still conducting business as usual, disregarding the enactment of the Tea Act. However, starting on Monday, the government will initiate the implementation of the Tea Act, which is currently in effect. We anticipate resistance from certain sector players, but we remain steadfast in our commitment," said Gachagua.

Gachagua said that had the previous regime executed the Act, small-scale tea farmers would be reaping the benefits of this cash crop.

The tea industry, which encompasses both small and large-scale farming across different regions and counties, plays a crucial role in Kenya’s economic development.

Presently, about 650,000 small-scale tea farmers are spread across tea-growing zones, jointly accounting for 60 per cent of local tea production.

The DP said recommendations from the tea reforms conference would be incorporated into an amendment to the Act, which will be presented to the Senate and the National Assembly for approval.

"Subsequently, the President, myself, and the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary will ensure 100 per cent compliance with the law. Tea is an integral part of the government's bottom-up economic transformation agenda," said Gachagua.

Agriculture CS Mithika Lintuti raised concern that there are those who sell their tea below the reserve price at the Mombasa tea auction, thus driving down prices below the set standards.

“However, the government provides a fertilizer subsidy to tea farmers, thereby reducing the cost of production,” he said.

Coffee farmer Charles Mitwiri when he hosted Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua on his farm at Nthimbiri village in Imenti North, Meru County on June 9, 2023. [DPCS]

Area Governor Erick Mutai underscored the disparity between the earnings of tea farmers and the price of an indigenous chicken. He revealed that farmers earn only Sh18-Sh20 per kilogram of green leaf, with Sh8 allocated to the plucker and Sh8 covering farm inputs.

“The profitability of tea farming should surpass that of indigenous chicken farming in which an egg costs Sh20, considering that tea is one of the highest-earning crops in the country,” Dr Mutai said

Mutai called for the establishment of an inland tea auction in the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) West of Rift region, arguing this facility will help farmers reduce transportation costs to the Mombasa tea auction, as well as expenses associated with warehousing and brokerage.

"The auction market must be re-evaluated. The Mombasa tea auction structure unfairly favours tea brokers, who earn three times more than small-scale tea farmers," said Mutai.

Senate Leader of Majority Aaron Cheruiyot, the key proponent of the Tea Act, stated that the recommendations from the tea conference would be presented to the Senate within three weeks.

Following deliberations and approval, the recommendations will then be forwarded to the National Assembly.

"Tea farmers form the foundation of our society. As legislators, we will not rest until they receive fair value for their crop," said Cheruiyot.

Stakeholders have called on the government to maintain the fertiliser subsidy at Sh3,500 per 50kg bag, arguing this will support tea farmers by enhancing their earnings.