Tea reforms to eliminate cartels long overdue

Two major conferences have addressed the plight of farmers, especially small-holders, giving hope to people who do not benefit as much as they should from their sweat.

These are the coffee and tea meetings at which Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua was the chief guest. And inevitably, one word has featured, and it is at the core of the exploitation of farmers. Cartels have over the years been the main beneficiaries, profiteering at the expense of the people who do the back-breaking work.

At both two-day conferences, last month in Meru, and this week in Kericho, DP Gachagua vowed to implement reforms and eliminate the cartels so that farmers are fully compensated for their investments in inputs such as seeds and fertiliser and the labour that goes into tilling the land and harvesting the crops.

In the tea sub-sector, the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) has come under scrutiny numerous times for not enabling the growers to get their rightful share of the proceeds from their crop.

There are 650,000 small-scale tea growers in 16 counties, supplying their produce to 69 KTDA-managed factories across the country. They need to make more money but are hampered by high operating and production costs.

Research on high-yielding tea and the licensing of a digital platform to compete with the traditional tea auction are promising initiatives that should earn more money for farmers. The proposed changes include enabling tea tasting to be scientific instead of the method where tasters use their tongues.

This should not be a talk shop. There is a need for tangible gains. Assuring farmers of guaranteed minimum returns and profits is crucial. However, the problems being experienced in the tea, coffee and milk sub-sectors are not peculiar to them.

Sugarcane, cotton, cashewnut and other cash-crop growers have been struggling, and yet agriculture remains the backbone of the economy.  As sugarcane and cashew nut growing continue to limp on, cotton totally collapsed and other cash crops are not doing any better.

The government should roll out more comprehensive reforms to revamp the entire agricultural sector, which is a major source of livelihood and employment for Kenyans.