What you need to know:
- All 16,000 employees of the multinational tea company will not report to work until the security situation is addressed by the government and other stakeholders.
- In a show of solidarity, large tea producers operating in Kericho, Bomet, Nyamira and Nandi counties will also scale down their operations until adequate security measures are in place.
A day after residents invaded two of its estates in Kericho and torched a mechanical tea machine, Ekaterra Tea Plc has suspended operations in the South Rift region.
All 16,000 employees of the multinational tea company will not report to work until the security situation is addressed by the government and other stakeholders.
In a show of solidarity, large tea producers operating in Kericho, Bomet, Nyamira and Nandi counties will also scale down their operations until adequate security measures are in place.
Through the Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) - the umbrella body for multinational and local private tea companies - they appealed to President William Ruto to intervene and restore order in the region.
Mr Silas Njibwakale, the KTGA chairman, accompanied by Ms Slyvia Ten Den, the Ekaterra Tea Company managing director responsible for Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, said the security situation had got out of hand.
"We appeal to the President (Dr Ruto) to intervene and restore order, protect local and foreign investments and avoid a situation where Kenya loses its international tea market niche," Mr Njibwakale said.
Mr Njibwakale said there had been a notable escalation in insecurity in the estates, with the breakdown of law and order severely disrupting business operations and thus hampering the growth of the tea industry.
"What started in October 2022 with daylight raids and theft of tea leaves and machinery has now escalated to organised attacks on business premises and deliberate destruction of critical assets," said Njibwakale.
The association said the burning of police vehicles, tea plucking machines, tractors, injuries to workers and policemen have not only endangered lives but have also hampered business operations of the various companies involved.
James Finlays Tea Company, which was represented at the press conference by Managing Director Simeon Hutchinson, Corporate Affairs Director Sammy Kirui and Human Resources Director Daniel Kirui, has also been a major victim of the chaotic situation in the region over the past year.
"Despite ongoing engagement with district security teams, the Ministry of Home Affairs, local chiefs and elders, the situation has unfortunately worsened," said Njibwakale.
They called on the highest levels of government and security agencies to take immediate and decisive action on the matter.
It comes a day after residents of Brooke Estate in Kericho invaded the Kapgorech and Chagaik tea estates owned by Ekaterra Tea Estates, where two self-propelled mechanical harvesters, seven mechanical hand-pickers and a tractor were burnt.
Several police officers were injured in the ensuing running battles with the protesters.
Kericho Governor Erick Mutai's motorcade was pelted with stones after he attempted to calm residents.
At least seven police officers have been seriously injured in the past two months while dispersing residents who had invaded Ekaterra and James Finlay's estates to illegally pick green leaves.