PUSH FOR REFORMS

Tea farmers laud Uhuru order to streamline sector

President directs AG to conduct an inquiry on alleged breaches by KTDA

In Summary
  • The farmers have for years been agitating for reforms which seemed plausible with the drafting and passing of the Tea Act last December
  • The President heard the farmers’ cries and issued an Executive order on Friday directing the Attorney General to conduct an inquiry
Kenya Tea Lobby Sector chairperson Irungu Nyakera with tea farmers from the Mt Kenya region.
Kenya Tea Lobby Sector chairperson Irungu Nyakera with tea farmers from the Mt Kenya region.
Image: Alice Waithera

Tea farmers from Murang’a have lauded President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive to streamline the sector.

The farmers have for years been agitating for reforms which seemed plausible with the drafting and passing of the Tea Act last December in Senate and the National Assembly.

But the anticipated reforms continued to drag as different players in the tea sector filed suits seeking changes to some of the clauses in the Act.

The farmers again came out accusing KTDA of plotting to frustrate the attempts by the government to reform the sector and appealed to the President to intervene.

Last month, the farmers went as far as writing to the Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu complaining over the manner in which KTDA and other agencies against reforms had been able to acquire court orders.

Mugambi Kanata, a tea farmer from Meru, said farmers are angry with KTDA's attempts to derail the implementation of the Tea Act and that it is only an Executive order that would come to their rescue.

The President heard the farmers’ cries and issued an Executive order on Friday directing the Attorney General to conduct an inquiry into alleged statutory and regulatory breaches allegedly committed by KTDA or its directors.

He also directed the AG to work with Ministry of Agriculture and  Ministry of Industrialisation and Trade, and take immediate remedial measures to ensure that each of the KTDA subsidiaries is reflected in framers’ incomes.

The newly established Tea Board of Kenya was directed to sanction immediate elections in all tea factories to enable farmers freely elect their board members within 60 days.

The board was also ordered to consult stakeholders and develop tea subsector regulations on directorships that will set term limits for chairpersons and directors of entities involved in the tea value chain to enhance accountability.

The President said setting up of tea prices remains an opaque and exclusionary process that is sharply dissimilar from the process in other comparative jurisdictions and that KTDA’s subsidiaries are locked in inherent conflicts of interest and are misaligned with the interests of tea farmers.

“In conduct of its business, KTDA may have in some instances acted contrary to applicable Kenyan laws and against the interests of small holder farmers despite them being its core constituency. There have been credible allegations raised regarding potential price and auction manipulation, abuse of dominance, insider trading and wastefulness by or within KTDA,” he said.

“In the view of the fact that the returns to farmers continue to decline, there is a compelling urgency for the corporate democratic control of KTDA and its affiliates to be realigned in favour of small holder farmers,” he further noted.

Kenya Tea Lobby Sector chairperson Irugu Nyakera said 2021 should be named the year of the farmer, expressing optimism that the struggles faced by tea farmers will soon be over.

He said in 2018, the country exported 475,000 metric tones leading to export earnings of $1.4 billion (Sh153.4 billion) and that Guinzhou produced 436,000 metric tones consumed locally and that farmers earned $ 7.8 billion (Sh855 billion).

“The answer is in value addition. These are the things we hope will be corrected by the Tea Act once it is fully implemented,” he said.

Meanwhile, Interior CS Fred Matiang’i directed security officers to ensure the tea factories directors’ elections are conducted in a free and fair manner.

Matiang’I who spoke on Friday while inspecting government projects in the county said security officers will offer the necessary support to ensure the reforms are done.

“Those fighting reforms should know that we are determined because we are interested in farmers’ affairs and will ensure they are done,” he said.

-Edited by Sarah Kanyara