Disputes escalate between counties, tea firms over land leases

A tea plucking machine at Ekaterra Tea Company plantation in Kericho county

A tea plucking machine at Ekaterra Tea Company plantation in Kericho county in this photo taken on June, 30, 2022. Multinationals are under pressure to reduce the number of tea plucking machines and revert to manual labour to create jobs for locals in the South Rift region.

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

A fresh row has erupted between multinational tea companies and tea-growing counties in the Rift Valley on proposals to revise land lease rates and valuations to determine the actual acreage under tea bushes.

Officials want the companies to implement a 2019 ruling by the National Land commission (NLC) that empowered devolved governments to make final decisions on expired land leases.

The governors of Nandi, Kericho and Bomet are pressing tea companies to pay new, higher land rates and allow fresh land surveys.

Led by Stephen Sang (Nandi) and Erick Mutai (Kericho), they also want the companies to suspend the use of tea-plucking machines so as to protect jobs.

Governor Sang has said his administration will not compromise on the new levies.

He disclosed plans to hike land rates from Sh100 to Sh10,000 per acre annually and carry out a fresh land survey to establish the current acreage under the cash crop.

Nandi Lands executive Philemon Bureti claimed tea companies had rejected proposed new land rates and fresh surveys.

“The tea companies are frustrating county efforts after the NLC mandated them to evaluate the land leases and determine actual acreage under tea crop,” Dr Bureti told the Saturday Nation.

Nandi, for instance, stands to generate Sh700 million annually from higher land rates, which it wants to raise from Sh100 to Sh5,000 per acre.

The multinationals are paying Sh 254 per acre with counties -Bomet and Kericho- proposing to raise the fees to at least 5,000 an acre.

Governor Mutai of Kerich called for a meeting between tea companies and the county government to agree on a way forward. He said local communities whose land was forcefully taken by the colonial government had suffered as squatters in their own country.

He said locals should be compensated.

He demanded that tea companies pay new land rates and support local communities through social programmes.

He said the NLC “in a Kenya Gazette [notice] dated 1st March 2019 ordered a number of multinational tea estates to comply with certain conditions [or] the leases held will not be renewed”.