Farmers in the Mt Kenya region have protested low tea bonus payments, saying they expected more after recent sector reforms.
Farmers in Kirinyaga, Embu, Nyeri and Meru threatened to uproot their tea and replace it with other crops with better returns.
More than 600,000 farmers affiliated to 69 factories under the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) will receive their bonuses on October 20. But the payments are less than last year’s, with a difference of over Sh5 for some factories.
“Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya went around telling us that the new tea regulations will improve payments but what we have received is shocking,” said Kirinyaga farmer Hanniel Njogu, who delivers his produce to Thumaita Tea Factory.
The factory will pay Sh21 per kilogramme of tea delivered, down from Sh25.
“Last year, when there were no reforms, we were paid better than this year. This is unacceptable,” he said.
Another farmer, Margaret Wakathaiya, who sells her produce to the same factory, said she was frustrated. “I'm not happy at all with the poor payment. KTDA should explain where they took my money,” she said.
The farmers accused KTDA of exploitation and vowed to abandon tea farming if the matter is not addressed.
Farmers who deliver tea to Kionyo Tea Factory in Meru will be paid Sh21 while last year they received Sh25 a kilo.
In Nyeri, farmers will receive between Sh12 and Sh17 per kilo for various factories. They said they were shocked by the payout, adding that they expected up to Sh50, which they were promised when the reforms were adopted.
Addressing farmers in Meru on Saturday, Mr Munya assured them that they will reap big returns next year now that a reserve price has been set at the Mombasa auction.
The CS reiterated that his campaign against tea cartels was bearing fruit, urging farmers to be patient despite the low bonus payments announced this year.
The low bonuses resulted from poor prices at the Mombasa auction, adding that next year, farmers should prepare for a ‘boom’.
“This year saw a sharp reduction of prices at the auction, culminating in the lowest price in June, when tea was sold at $2.06 (Sh206). But starting from July when we set the reserve price of $2.43 (Sh268), the prices have improved,” he said.
The CS was speaking at Kiegoi Tea Factory in Igembe South yesterday when he launched a series of meetings with farmers in Meru County.
He noted that cartels at the auction attempted to frustrate the reserve price but gave up when they realised he would not back down.
“The cartels tried to fight back by refusing to buy tea but I stood my ground and said if they did not buy, the government would pay farmers even for six months,” he said.
“When they realised we were serious in empowering the farmer, they had no choice. The prices have since appreciated, hitting a high of $2.88 (Sh288) in September,” he said.
The next step, he said, would be to ensure the cost of production at factories was reduced with a view to increasing farmers’ earnings.
Whereas it costs over Sh100 to produce a kilo of tea in some factories, he said, the lowest was Sh69. The average cost of production in Meru was Sh73, he said.
“This is the reason we have ordered a forensic audit on all factories so that we find out where the money is being wasted. We will seal these loopholes and ensure that this money goes to the farmer,” the CS added.
KTDA national chairman David Ichoho assured farmers that the new management supported farmers and would ensure that tea growers benefit from the reforms in the sector