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Put cash in our pockets, tea farmers cry

By Macharia Kamau | May 5th 2020

Tea farmers want the new sub-sector regulations to reign in middlemen and increase their earnings.

The concerns follow a decline in earnings for tea growers, who experienced a 25 per cent dip during the financial year ending June 2019 compared to the previous year.

A combination of factors including crises that have hit major countries that buy majority of Kenyan tea such as Pakistan, the United Kingdom and Egypt, have resulted in a decline in the price of tea.

Local farmers, however, have to grapple with middlemen who take a substantial share of what could be going to small scale tea growers.

Previous tabulations by the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that while farmers could be earning up to Sh91 per kilogramme of tea, they were making Sh41 while the balance of Sh50 – more than half – was going to brokers and middlemen.

This has seen farmers vouch for implementation of the regulations to help them earn decent income.

Former Maragua MP Elias Mbau, (pictured) also a tea farmer in Kirinyaga County, says the problem with the local agricultural sector is lack of commitment in articulating laws that will best serve the farmer.

“It is frustrating to hear politicians hijacking the process for political gain. We cannot win more cash for the farmer by fighting offices and managers in the sector. It might appear stylish and good for politics. But what about the long term?” he poses.

Mbau, an economist, says the sector needs subsidies, value addition and honest markets as well as integrity in managing farmers’ earnings. Of priority, he says is to seal the loopholes that give the sector cartels a leeway to rig the markets, corrupt the computations and eat into net earnings.

He explains that any other approach to the issue is the noise that will only serve to give the farmer false hope.

Profit margins

According to James Nyakera, a tea farmer in Murang’a County, the wording of any law to superintend the tea industry is not important.

“Of importance is at what point will the tea farmer break even… We need laws that will give us predictable profit margins. Legal wordings have never guaranteed us earnings,” he said.

He observed that the proposed regulations should encompass the whole hog of the value chain - starting from breeding, husbandry, market structures and safeguarding earnings from harsh taxation regimes, theft and delays in reaching the farmer.

This is supported by Moses Wamwea, 82, who has been a tea farmer for 30 years.

“It has been hectic since there has never been a predictable earnings curve. What has been the case is tea harvesting only benefiting pickers and the farmer waiting for the annual bonus to pocket something,” he says.

He says the sector needs a policy intervention that will give the tea farmer predictable profit margins.

“We should have a situation where there should be at least Sh20 difference to the advantage of the farmer between the tea pickers’ rate and that of net sale per kilo,” he said. According to Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, debate around the tea industry should only put money in the farmers pockets.

He said brokers in the agricultural value chain have been conspiring with industry players to enslave farmers, noting that fixing the sector has been overdue.

“We should demand that tea farmers get real subsidies at the input stores and taxation reprieve,” he said.

Kang’ata said the farmer at whatever the challenge should never earn less than 30 per cent as net profit.  

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