CITE POOR BONUSES

Kangema farmers boycott tea picking in bid to delink from factory

More than 400 farmers want nothing to do with Githambo factory, which they accuse of condemning them to poverty.

In Summary

• The farmers on September 18 notified the factory of their intention to leave and join Gacharage in neighbouring Kigumo subcounty. 

• But the factory has declined to respond, prompting them to stop picking tea for three weeks now.

Striking tea farmers in Ichichi village, Kangema subcounty, Murang'a, on Thursday, November 19, 2020.
Striking tea farmers in Ichichi village, Kangema subcounty, Murang'a, on Thursday, November 19, 2020.
Image: ALICE WAITHERA
Striking tea farmers in Ichichi village, Kangema subcounty, Murang'a, on Thursday, November 19, 2020.
Striking tea farmers in Ichichi village, Kangema subcounty, Murang'a, on Thursday, November 19, 2020.
Image: ALICE WAITHERA

More than 400 farmers from Kangema want to dissociate themselves from Githambo tea factory and join another that offers better services.

On Thursday, the farmers from three tea-buying centres—Gikigie, Ndu-ini and Kiangenye in Ichichi area—accused the factory of failing to give them a clearance letter to enable them to join Gacharage in neighbouring Kigumo subcounty.

They said they gave a one-month notice to the factory on September 18 indicating their intention to move but the factory refused to act. However, factory unit manager Simon Mugo said they had not received the notice, prompting the growers to chase him away when he visited a buying centre.

The manager said he wanted the farmers to air their grievances but the farmers said the time for dialogue had elapsed and instead demanded a clearance letter.

For three weeks now, the farmers have boycotted tea picking. Tea bushes have overgrown and while a few farmers have backed off and are picking their tea, the majority have remained adamant that they will not pick their tea until their transfer bid succeeds.

They say they have been condemned to a miserable life. Even worse, roads leading to the village that borders the Aberdare Forest are almost unusable, they lament. The roads are rocky and have huge potholes, with surface runoff making it difficult to wade through some sections.

John Ngunjiri from Gikigie tea-buying centre said that while the Githambo plant is about 18km from the village, Gacharage factory is only six kilometres away.

The close proximity of Gacharage makes it more favourable given the ease of access. Ngunjiri noted that the extremely cold weather in the area means it is not conducive to the growth of food crops, hence they have no option but to stick to tea to survive.

The area is characteristically green. This is a result of the symphony created by forests and a rolling carpet of tea bushes in the vicinity — a sight to behold.

However, the pathetic state of the roads dilutes the scenic beauty when it rains, Ngunjiri said. Trucks get stuck in the mud and getting harvests to the factory turns into a nightmare. Given the situation, the farmers have to spend nights in buying centres.

Paul Kibe, an elderly farmer, said he would rather abandon tea farming altogether than continue selling his tea to Githambo factory. He said he has nothing to show for his decades of tea farming given the utter poverty in which he brought up his children.

“The only way I could afford school fees was through loans that I took from KTDA. They withhold my money and then loan it to me through their affiliate companies,” he said.

Kibe complained that the factory strictly requires them to pick only two leaves and a bud to improve the quality but pays considerably lower than other factories. The factory paid Sh21 per kilogramme in this year’s annual bonus payment compared with Gacharage factory's Sh30.

“Gacharage factory often pays at least Sh10 more than what we receive in annual bonuses,” a frustrated Kibe said.

Should the factory not give them a clearance letter, Kibe said he will uproot his tea bushes and plant avocado, which he said has the potential to earn him much more.

Margaret Wambui said many women have fallen sick while toiling on the farms to be able to support their families, only to earn peanuts.

"My home is a bit further from the buying centre and during rainy seasons. I'm forced to spend nights in homes neighbouring the centre when the factory buys our tea at night but the rewards I get out of it cannot support my family,” she said.

She said they have had enough of the poor services offered by Githambo factory and want to be allowed to seek better services elsewhere. They vowed to continue the boycott until the factory heeds their notice.

 

Edited by F'Orieny

Striking tea farmers in Ichichi village, Kangema subcounty, Murang'a, on Thursday, November 19, 2020.
Striking tea farmers in Ichichi village, Kangema subcounty, Murang'a, on Thursday, November 19, 2020.
Image: ALICE WAITHERA