KTDA PUT ON NOTICE

Petition by directors against tea sector reforms sparks uproar

A court has suspended 14 sections of the Tea Act, 2020.

In Summary

• The law will allow the government to audit KTDA and its affiliate companies to establish how farmers' money is used.

• Kenya Tea Sector Lobby chairperson Irungu Nyakera on Sunday said KTDA seeks to delay implementation of reforms through court cases.

Tea farmers from Ichichi area in Kangema protest against low tea prices.
Tea farmers from Ichichi area in Kangema protest against low tea prices.
Image: Alice Waithera
Kenya Tea Sector Lobby chairperson Irungu Nyakera addresses farmers at Mairi in Kigumo on Sunday.
Kenya Tea Sector Lobby chairperson Irungu Nyakera addresses farmers at Mairi in Kigumo on Sunday.
Image: Alice Waithera

The bid to emancipate tea farmers has hit yet another roadblock after the High Court in Embu issued orders suspending crucial clauses in the new Tea Act.

The new suit has sparked uproar among farmers, who have accused Kenya Tea Development Agency of using the courts to derail implementation of sector reforms. The law was passed by the Senate in December and assented to by the President.

On January 18, Justice Lucy Njuguna issued a conservatory order suspending the implementation of 14 sections, pending the hearing and determination of a petition filed by directors from 54 factories across the country.

The law will allow the government to audit KTDA and its affiliate companies to establish how farmers' money is used. It was introduced by Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot and requires the agency to pay farmers 50 per cent of their monthly earnings. 

But the directors said some provisions of the Act have far-reaching consequences to the business, operations and affairs of the factories and the sector.

The Act also outlaws direct sales and directs that all tea be sold through the Mombasa auction. The directors, however, told court that their factories, which bring together more than 600,000 smallholder farmers, sell their produce through the Mombasa auction under the East African Tea Trade Association and direct sales to buyers on agreed terms.

Through their lawyers, they noted that factories have retained one managing agent, KTDA management services, a one stop shop that provides all requisite services. The Tea Act, 2020, however, allows competition in management services that will provide a platform for companies to compete on prices, thereby reducing the cost of production for farmers.

Kenya Tea Sector Lobby chairperson Irungu Nyakera on Sunday said KTDA seeks to delay implementation of reforms through court cases. This is because the agency grossly misappropriates farmers’ money and renders them powerless as they have no alternative, he said.

The former Devolution principal secretary claimed that the agency has attempted to silence him several times through bribery but failed. He said the new law will reduce the cost of production charged to farmers while encouraging value addition that will fetch more.

Nyakera questioned why KTDA never seeks to expand its market from its two primary buying countries Pakistan and Egypt, both of which give conditions before purchases.

"Rwandese tea fetches up to $7 a kilogramme, yet ours keeps stagnating at $2. KTDA officials have employed their children in the marketing department and that is why there is no professionalism,” he said.

Nyakera was addressing farmers at Mairi in Kigumo. He appealed to them not to reelect the directors.

“They are the reason we are where we are right now. A director cannot serve for 30 years and still claim to have fresh ideas,” he said, adding that the Act transfers significant power to directors, hence farmers have to carefully vet them during elections.

He said he is personally committed to ensuring KTDA chairman Peter Kanyago is not reelected in his Chinga factory, Nyeri county, saying the reforms cannot be fully effected without reforming the agency itself.

Murang'a Governor Mwangi wa Iria, for his part, wants President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene and stop KTDA from derailing reforms.

“This now requires another level of intervention. We cannot allow legalities to derail a good thing. The trick KTDA is playing is to derail it in court until the Jubilee government is out,” he said.

The sector supports many lives and such tactics should not be allowed, the governor said. He added that the court cases should be fast-tracked and urgently determined even if it means issuance of an Executive order to that effect.

The county chief urged President Kenyatta not to allow KTDA to mess up one of his biggest legacies. Murang’a is the largest producer of tea locally.

James Mukuna, a farmer, expressed concern that the cases filed by KTDA against the law continue to burden them. He said the petition disregards the authority of the President and they will seek to be included in it.

Weighing in on the issue, lawyer Patrick Ngunjiri said ex parte suspension of sections of a law unanimously passed by Parliament is an act of judicial impunity.

“It is not lost on us that KTDA and other forces opposed to the reforms have obtained five ex parte orders blocking the implementation of reforms, perpetuating modern-day enslavement of farmers,” he said.

During his four-day tour of Murang’a county, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya reiterated that he will not be cowed into silence by those opposed to sector reforms. Munya said it is time smallholder farmers were saved from the chokehold of slavery they have lived under for decades.

He said the government will ensure the law is urgently implemented. The law went through the required procedures, with MPs going round the country collecting views before it was passed, he said.

"The government cannot allow organised crime in which cartels exploit farmers and condemn them to poverty," the CS said.

He said this time KTDA and other agencies opposed to reforms will not be able to use the courts to frustrate their efforts.

Edited by F'Orieny