MP warns of threat to KTDA operations as wealthy merchants throng Embu

A farmer plucking tea

A farmer plucking tea. Runyenjes MP Eric Muchangi has expressed concern over increased number of merchants buying tea from growers in Embu County, threatening Kenya Tea Development Agency operations.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Wealthy merchants have thronged Embu and are buying tea from farmers, offering stiff competition to the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA).

Consequently, Runyenjes MP Eric Muchangi has expressed concerns about the buyers.

The merchants are going round the region, promising to improve the living standards of the farmers, who have delivered their produce to KTDA factories for decades.

The merchants offer Sh50 per kilo of tea leaves and farmers are paid promptly on delivery. In the last bonus payment, the highest-paid farmers from the region received Sh41 per kilo.

A cross-section of farmers welcomed the merchants, saying their prices were good and vowed to continue trading with them.

"The merchants are buying our produce at a high price compared with KTDA and to us they have a better deal and we shall continue supporting them," said Johnson Mucunu.

Farmers accused KTDA of running a monopoly, controlling tea marketing in the area and keeping prices low.

"When there is competition, the prices go up. Now that we have individual buyers who own private factories, KTDA will be forced to increase prices and finally farmers will be the major beneficiaries," Mr Mucunu added.

But local KTDA directors oppose the new buyers.

They warned farmers that they risk ruining their enterprises as the new buyers will not offer them subsidised fertilisers to boost production.

Rukuriri Tea Factory chairman Joseph Rwanjau warned farmers that they will regret it if they continue supporting the new merchants.

"The farmers are also endangering their factories that they have heavily invested in. They should be careful and refuse to embrace strangers. When the deal is so good, they should think twice," said Mr Rwanjau.

MP Muchangi advised farmers to stop selling their produce to the merchants.

He said the merchants are competing against KTDA and this could lead to the collapse of tea factories that belong to farmers.

He warned that farmers will suffer if the factories close due lack of tea leaves for processing.

Speaking on Tuesday at Kianjokoma market, the MP asked farmers to desist from hawking their produce if they want their factories to survive and continue giving them quality services.

He also said hawking tea could disrupt prices, making it hard for farmers to make profits and pay loans obtained from saccos and other financial institutions.

"What is happening in the region will affect the farmers' income adversely and even lead to a high cost of production at the factory level," he said.

One of the merchants, he claimed, came to the area after his tea on 600 acres failed to produce enough leaves for his factories due to drought.

"Once the merchant’s farms start doing well, he will abandon you and your produce will go to waste," he said.

He also observed that hawking tea will encourage theft of the produce.

He said the presence of the merchants in the region will encourage criminals to steal tea at night from farms and sell it to them.

He claimed the money the merchants are offering will be short-lived and it is too early for farmers to celebrate.