MISERABLE LIVES

Tea farmers seek radical changes at KTDA

Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina to petition Parliament over reforms

In Summary

• Growers earn peanuts despite back-breaking work, demand one-man-one vote

• KTDA chief executive Lerionka Tiampati says no comment.

Man adds fuel wood to a boiler in Chinga tea factory in Othaya, Nyeri
TROUBLE BREWING: Man adds fuel wood to a boiler in Chinga tea factory in Othaya, Nyeri
Image: EUTYCAS MUCHIRI

The tea sector desperately needs to be revamped lest its troubles boil over.

And Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina plans to petition the government to radically change management of the subsector so farmers can escape penury and make a decent living.

The petition to Parliament, which will be ready in a fortnight, aims to give farmers subsidies, a level playing field and a strong voice in making decisions on farming and selling.

"Numerous tea farmers in Central have suffered too long," Maina told the Star in an interview on Thursday. "We cannot sit and watch as the situation gets worse, yet farmers growing sugarcane are getting massive government help."

He said many problems facing tea and coffee farmers have forced them to settle for peanuts and lead miserable lives, though they toil on their farms.

The Kenya Tea Development Agency has been buying tea from farmers at Sh15 per kilo, which is subjected to further deductions, leaving a farmer with about Sh3 per kilo.

The same is auctioned at an average of Sh300 per kilo at the Mombasa Tea auction.

“Clearly, the farmer is getting nothing yet it is the farmer who is doing the hardest work. It's time to give the farmer what belongs to him,” the senator said.

KTDA chief executive Lerionka Tiampati told the Star on the phone that he cannot comment since he has not seen the petition. "Every factory has its own costing and payment criteria, hence, we need to understand the specific issues affecting the farmers," Tiampati said.

In the petition,  small-scale tea farmers want their payments increased. 

They also want the system KTDA elections overhauled. The farmers are pushing for a one-man-one-vote policy, irrespective of the tea grown.

Today those with larger shares have the upper hand and greater voting rights, the senator said. This inequity has left small-scale farmers powerless in the management of KTDA. 

The farmers have also complained about the many deductions done by KTDA, which are not properly explained and lower earnings.

Speaking to the Star, Grace Ngambi, a small scale farmer, said the peasant farmer should have equal rights just like the big farmer.

“We want to be paid the bonus three times a year because currently our money is kept for the whole year and the farmer does not have access to it,” she said.

She said farmers  must go to banks to get loans, educate their children  and meet other needs, " though we are expected to continue tending to our tea.”

Monthly payments should also be improved and KTDA should allow farmers to purchase tea picking machines so they can easily pick tea and maximise their benefits, the farmers said.

Farmers have complained that tea pickers earn more money than farmers. Out of the Sh15 they earn per month per kilo, tea pickers take home Sh12, leaving the farmer with the only Sh3 to cater for all their needs and buy farm inputs.

Kihu Irimu says though world tea sales have increased and consumption of both green and black tea has improved worldwide, the farmer still gets Sh15 per kilo, and as little as Sh35 per kilo for a bonus.

Recently, KTDA increased monthly payments by one shilling, which farmers term a big joke.

Despite witnessing a rise in tea pricing in the last decade, more than 650,000 small scale farmers have not seen more money in their pockets.

 Irimu says the Ministry of Agriculture should facilitate reforms at the KTDA to revert it to a public parastatal status for better management.

Mugi Njama says tea farmers also want to get subsidies, as do sugarcane and maize farmers to increase production and cushion them from the high prices of inputs.

There are also projects such as Gura hydroelectric power where farmers earnings were deducted for their construction but have not earned any dividend, he said.

“We want our senators to look for all ways possible to ensure that all farmers who had their money deducted and channelled to such projects are allocated shares as per their deductions so they can benefit from the proceeds of the projects,” he said.

The hydroelectric power is used locally while the extra power is sold to the national grid.

On Saturday last week,  farmers met Nyeri Senator Maina and presented their petition. This document is being fine-tuned before it goes to the Senate.Edited by Rawlings Otini