Tea troubles a raging tempest as factory leaders feud, poor farmers kill themselves

Raila Odinga has called for an audit of KTDAt and an end to its monopoly of the sector

In Summary

• Prices so low that farmers uproot tea and coffee bushes. Destitution cited as cause of suicide among farmers in Central. 

• Meantime, a wrangle over leadership at a Murang'a tea factory exemplifies the problems and the farmers' pathetically low payments.

Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina consults Anglican Church Mt Kenya West Diocese Bishop Joseph Kagunda during a meeting for grassroots and church leaders at Nyamachaki PCEA hall in Nyeri town on Monday.
TEA AND COFFEE: Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina consults Anglican Church Mt Kenya West Diocese Bishop Joseph Kagunda during a meeting for grassroots and church leaders at Nyamachaki PCEA hall in Nyeri town on Monday.

The tempest at the major Kiru Tea Factory in Murang'a  gives an insight into the problems afflicting the country's collapsing tea sector.

Some problems are exemplified by the stalemate over leadership of the factory and demands for better prices for farmers.

KTDA will only increase it from Sh15 to Sh18 per kilogramme.

On Monday Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina pledged to help revive the tea sector and called on county and national governments to act. He said destitute farmers are committing suicide.

He said farmers are suffering under KTDA.

ODM leader Raila Odinga wants an audit of KTDA. He has called on Parliament to enact legislation to end KTDA's monopoly of the sector and help farmers who are uprooting bushes.

In Muranga, the-faction factory standoff worsened following the expiration of a 10-year contract with KTDA on June 30.

One faction wants to renegotiate terms to benefit farmers — KTDA refuses to talk.

The head of the other faction says he's the real chairman with a big loan backed by KTDA, ta contract and is already processing orthodox tea.

Chege Kirundi, chairman of one faction in the factory in 2017, wrote to KTDA requesting renegotiation before the contract is renewed.

He claimed  KTDA has refused to negotiate and instead insists on the renewal of the old contract which he said oppresses farmers.

The other chairman, Stephen Githiga, said he renewed the contract early last year while taking a Sh100 million loan to construct an orthodox tea plant which was guaranteed by KTDA.

The plant now processes about 10 per cent of the 25 million kilogrammes of tea processed by the factory annually.

He said the Kirundi faction is only aggrieved because it is not recognised in the new contract.

Githiga said those opposing the contract can seek legal redress, saying his side of the board is the legitimate one.

However,  Kirundi said his board wants a contract that improves farmers' pay and enhances accountability and transparency on how farmers’ money is handled.

“KTDA has closed all doors of negotiations for the last two years despite our willingness to negotiate,” Kirundi said at the county commissioners office after the two factions were summoned over the stalemate.

Without the KTDA contract, Kirundi said, his board will take over the management of the company.

He said KTDA wants to forcefully manage the factory and rejects negotiating to better farmers’ pay.  

“As the elected board we have refused to agree to that. Either they agree to negotiate or we will manage the company ourselves,” Kirundi said. 

He said under the old contract, the farmers received Sh15 for the last 10 years and KTDA will only increase it to Sh18.

Kirundi called this an abuse of farmers as pluckers are paid about Sh12 and the farmer is only left with Sh6 which is inadequate to support a family.

He said the 8,000 farmers served by the factory can be paid much more than that but said KTDA has also refused arbitration provided in the expired contract.

“I expect that KTDA will see sense and agree to negotiate. There is still time but as of now, the factory is being managed by the board and if something goes wrong, it is answerable,” Kirundi said.

In Nyeri, Maina Nyeri Senator Ephraim Mainapledged to work with President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga to revive the tea sector.

The senator spoke to grassroots and church leaders from across the county at Nyamachaki PCEA hall in Nyeri town.

Maina said he has also reached out to President Kenyatta, urging him to address problems in the coffee sector.

“Coffee, tea and milk sectors which earned income have collapsed,” the legislator said.

The collapse, he added, has left many people destitute. He said this could be one cause of the increased suicides in Central region.

Maina cautioned against rushing to replace coffee with avocado trees, saying countries that have streamlined the coffee value chains have been earning better incomes.

He cited Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda as some of the most successful coffee-growing countries. He blamed the problems in Kenya on rampant corruption.

Prominent farmer Esau Kioni said he had 10 acres of tea and was also a dairy farmer but has already abandoned the two as they are no longer profitable.

(Edited by V. Graham)