- The announcement was made by the company through the Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA).
- It comes a day after a group of residents invaded the farm and torched tea-plucking machines.
Ekaterra Tea formerly Unilever has announced the suspension of its operations in Bomet and Kericho counties following the heightened invasion and destruction of property by residents.
The multinational tea firm which owns vast tea estates in the two counties says the criminal activities and the breakdown of law and order have continued to disrupt their business operations.
“The safety of their people is of paramount importance to them. So they have suspended their operations until the law enforcement agencies can confirm that it is safe to resume their activities,” a statement issued Tuesday by Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) chair Silas Njibwakale reads.
KTGA is an umbrella union of large-scale tea producers in the country.
Njibwakale says the escalation of insecurity in the farms has led to organized assaults on business premises and the deliberate destruction of crucial assets.
“The value of compromised assets as a result of these security challenges is estimated at approximately Sh50 million and an additional Sh120 million in 4.5 million kilos of green leaf,” it states.
The recent violent confrontations between armed groups and security personnel, he noted, have caused severe injuries including the “regrettable" incident of a police vehicle being set on fire.
The vehicle was set ablaze by an irate mob that had invaded the tea farms to illegally pluck tea.
While the tea industry plays a vital role in the country’s economy, KTGA argues that the current situation, if left unaddressed was likely to cause negative impacts.
“These criminal activities not only endanger lives but also hinder business operations, impeding the tea industry's ability to thrive,” he notes.
Other measures announced by the association include the reduction of operations in all other major large-scale farms in Nyamira and Nandi.
Any further engagement with the technical working committee on the recommendations by a Kericho Task Force on large-scale tea producers and other stakeholders in the tea sub-sector also remains suspended.
The Taskforce, in a report, recommended a ratio of 60:40 machine harvesting to hand plucking.
The move was taken by the Company a day after a group of residents invaded the farm and torched tea-plucking machines.
They are protesting over mechanization.
Cases of locals invading and destroying properties at the tea estates began late last year with the torching of 10 machines.
While the companies have continued to invest millions in the machines, local leaders argue this was coming at a great cost to tea farmers who are losing work and money.
“Since this system was started, we have seen the number of workers decline from 50,000 to 10,000 while Kericho is now a ghost town due to job losses,” Mutai said in a past address while accusing the companies of embarking on procurement without consulting the leaders to discuss its implications on employment.