TEA FARMING MIRED IN CRISIS

Senators direct DCI to probe KTDA, alleged loss of Sh21bn

An ad hoc committee of the House had recommended to President Kenyatta to form a commission of inquiry to look into the problems facing the sector and offer solutions.

In Summary

• On Thursday, Senator Maina complained that farmers have suffered for far too long, hence the need for speedy investigations by the state agency. 

• They cited claims of Sh21 billion lost following the collapse of Chase and Imperial banks.

Farmers pick tea
CRISIS: Farmers pick tea
Image: FILE

The Senate wants the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to launch probe into alleged misuse of tea farmers’ earnings.

Through a letter dated October 22 and signed by both Ephraim Maina (Nyeri Senator and Energy Committee chairman) and his Kericho counterpart Aaron Cheruiyot, they cited claims of Sh21 billion lost following the collapse of Chase and Imperial banks.

They also want the general conduct of the Kenya Tea Development Agency probed. The letter was addressed to DCI chief George Kinoti, with the reference, ‘Alleged embezzlement of tea farmers’ earnings’. It was received by the DCI on November 1.

“The Constitution of Kenya 2010 established the Senate, which serves to protest the interests of the counties and its people among other roles. We the undersigned representatives of Kericho, Nyeri, Meru and Vihiga counties seek your intervention on the claims and woes of tea farmers under the management of KTDA,” the letter reads.

“Following several complaints to our offices by tea farmers over the dip in earnings, we seek your esteemed intervention from your good office in investigating the alleged hoarding of farmers’ earnings, otherwise referred to as bonuses by KTDA and its subsidiaries.

“It’s our humble appeal that your office moves with speed in investigating this urgent matter that has led to the impoverishment of over 700,000 smallholder tea farmers. This has not only led to economic depression in the 21 tea growing counties but also increased cases of depression and suicide among tea farmers, who are the mainstay of Kenya’s economy.”

The senators called for probes, pending the implementation of the recommendations of the Ad-hoc Committee on Tea Report, which, among other things, proposes the formation of a commission of inquiry to probe the Kenya Tea Development Authority.

The committee was established by a Senate Resolution on March 14, 2018. It was tasked to look into the sector and submit a report within five months, with specific legislative and policy interventions to address the problems facing the tea sector.

On Thursday, Senator Maina complained that farmers have suffered for far too long, hence the need for speedy investigations by the state agency. 

In an interview with The Star, he said investigations by the Senate pointed to some “criminal activities” by some people tasked with running the tea sector.  He maintained that no elections should be held at KTDA until farmers’ complaints are addressed, including the voting system. 

In its investigations, the committee had relied on the Constitution, the County Government Act, 2012, the Intergovernmental Relations Act, 2013, the Crops Act, 2013, the Competition Act, 2010, and the company’s legal documents. 

“The committee observed that the tea policy was still in draft form and it has been for over five years. Smallholder tea sector in Kenya can contribute significantly to the well being of the farmers as well as foreign exchange earner if well regulated. Smallholder tea farmers still use a low level of technology in terms of clones of tea being old,” the committee said.

“Smallholder tea farmers experience both production and marketing challenges occasioned by small farm holdings. Farm inputs such as fertilisers are not readily available and are expensive. Earnings from tea by smallholder tea farmer is low and on a downward trend, and there are too many taxes and levies on tea. There are over 42 taxes from leaf to cup.”

The committee also observed that operation costs by factories are high, hence eating into farmers’ profit. It also noted very little value addition on the finished products at the factory level owing to the high cost of packaging materials.

Also cited was a lack of transparency in factory operations and the managing agent, KTDA, which has initiated other company projects other than tea to the detriment of the farmers. The team said there is no justification to test tea at the Mombasa auction and questioned why it should not be done at the factories.

Many middlemen along the value chain and tea hawking were also blamed for the lack of quality and companies’ inadequate capacities to deal with registered growers.

Given the woes bedevilling the sector, the lawmakers urged the President to form a commission of inquiry to look into the issues raised by farmers, including ways of tackling their problems after KTDA, formerly a parastatal, was turned into a private managing agency.

The commission would also look into alleged dubious investments that add no value to farmers and advise on the possibility of carrying out a forensic audit of KTDA’s operations.

As debates continue on the viability of the sector going forward, farmers hope the DCI boss will respond to the senators’ call by cracking the whip on cartels, whom they accuse of exploitation.

(Edited by F'Orieny)