Religious leaders from Murang’a have sought President Uhuru Kenyatta’s intervention to save the tea sector in the region from imminent collapse.
The clerics said cartels have infiltrated the sector and held farmers hostage for decades. They said brokers are enriching themselves at the expense of hardworking farmers.
Speaking on the sidelines of a retreat for the clergy in Gatanga on Wednesday, the religious leaders said most of their congregants are tea farmers and have been exploited for too long.
They said the farmers have remained poor despite owning huge tea farms.
“Farmers have struggled for a long time with poor prices and low returns from the crop yet tea is our leading foreign exchange earner,” said Bishop Johanna Ndirangu of the Gaturo Akorino Church.
“Tea farmers are the most taxed group and yet they’ve been left at the mercy of the cartels. We are asking our President to intervene and end their agony.” Ndirangu said it was unfortunate that brokers who do not own tea farms continue to run the sector and enrich themselves.
He said the sector is at the risk of collapse with farmers already looking at alternative crops.
Some have adopted macadamia and avocadoes which have ready market with handsome pay. “Farmers are now uprooting tea bushes because they have been toiling for years for nothing. That shouldn’t be the case. We want the government to intervene and streamline operations,” Ndirangu said.
Bishop Henry Waweru of Christ Pentecostal Church asked Parliament to pass laws that will cushion farmers from exploitation by the brokers.
He said the cartels are behind illegal tea deals that have wreaked havoc in the sector.
“Farmers must be protected from exploitation by cartels and it’s the mandate of elected leaders to legislate policies that will empower farmers,” Waweru said.
Reverend Michael Mwaura of Fountains of Life Church said the President should convene a meeting with Murang’a tea farmers and managers to find a lasting solution to the challenges.
The clerics faulted Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA), saying it was oppressing farmers with poor pay.
They called for the disbandment of the agency and a committee formed in its place to run and manage the tea industry.
“The agency is the reason cartels have found room to terrorise farmers. It has done done nothing to improve the farmers’ welfare including despite the many cries,” Mwaura said.
In July, Kiru Tea Factory chairman Chege Kirudi led farmers to seek audience with the President over the worsening state of the tea industry in the region.
He said farmers were being ripped off by the cartels and brokers.
“This industry is riddled with corruption by cartels are exploiting the toil of innocent farmers,” Kirudi said.
The Senate ad hoc committee on tea led by Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot promised to get rid of cartels and allow farmers to enjoy tea benefits.
The team spoke to farmers in July at Gatura in Gatanga sub-county.
Cheruiyot said it was unfortuante that money earned from tea was not trickling down to farmers.
“Out of the Sh140 billion generated in the sector last year, only half of it went into farmers’ pockets as the rest went into taxation and other agencies’ fees,” he noted.
Such issues, he added, need to be reviewed to cushion the sector from collapse.
He said the committee would soon summon the relevant government agencies in a bid to find amicable solutions.