• The legislators accused the agency of failing to cushion farmers from fluctuating prices.
• They also said the agency has failed to diversify its market despite increased tea production.
BY ALICE WAITHERA
Mathioya MP Peter Kimari wants the leadership of the Kenya Tea Development Agency overhauled over low payments to farmers.
He said the agency’s top leadership has failed to manage the sector in a way that cushions farmers from meagre payments. Kimari questioned why the KTDA has continued to rely on countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Britain and Egypt to buy local tea, yet the production has continued to increase.
But KTDA zone 3 board member Francis Macharia said directors have nothing to do with the poor prices. He blamed it on the "unstable global market".
Kimari said tea is consumed worldwide and what is needed is a leadership that will diversify the market.
“I wonder why we sell our tea to Britain in bulk only for them to repackage in sachets and sell it back to us with all the technology that we have,” Kimari said.
He blamed the failure by the KTDA to add value to tea for the fluctuation in prices. Value-addition is the only way farmers will be able to get an extra coin, especially because local tea is one of the best globally, he said.
The lawmaker said should things continue as they are where tea is taken to the Mombasa auction and sold in bulk, farmers will never move forward. “Some people have been ripping farmers off because if our tea is bought at a kilo a dollar and sold back in grammes for the same dollar, it shows something needs to be done so farmers can get more money,” he said.
He said farmers earn less because no value is added to their produce. About half of the constituency is under tea. Kimari said the sector has too many middlemen who benefit at the expense of growers.
He questioned why farmers have to hire godowns in Mombasa as they wait for auction and shipment.“Why can’t the buyers buy tea from the factory and ship it themselves so the farmer can get more benefits?” he asked.
He lauded Kiru tea factory for being the only one in Murang’a to diversify its tea.
A 40 per cent decline in prices leaves farmers who had taken advance loans and in debts, Kimari said. He cautioned against tea hawking, saying it makes room for cartels to further rip off farmers.
“The coffee sector went that route and opened market but it ended up collapsing. The KTDA has been a good outfit to a large extent until it stopped broadening its market as tea production continues to increase,” he added.
He said it is better to strengthen the management of factories and the agency and look into ways of reducing the middlemen, adding that 60 per cent of his constituents rely on the tea sector to support their families.
His Kiharu counterpart Ndindi Nyoro recommended the imposition of guaranteed minimum returns below which prices will never fall.
“There is no justice for farmers to keep farming without knowing the expected prices of their produce,” he said.
“Our tea and coffee farmers are in that situation and am asking the president that even if we do roads and other big infrastructural projects, farmers will still be angry if they are broke.”
Macharia said local tea is largely sold to Arab countries, which have been experiencing political turmoil. He urged the government to fulfil its promise of supporting factories and ensuring they have value-addition capacities to help them package their tea.
“One factory can't establish such a plant by itself because it runs into billions, but the government can cluster factories and give them collective loans that they can pay over several years,” he said, adding that that's the route to ensuring farmers get more earnings.
Ngeere factory has proposed the highest bonus prices in the county at Sh37.15 per kilogramme, while Githambo factory had the lowest with 27.75 per kilogramme.
(Edited by F'Orieny)