Tea firms surrender 1,000 acres for industrial park

A worker at Nandi Tea Estate Limited in Nandi Hills

A worker at Nandi Tea Estate Limited in Nandi Hills plucks tea leaves on April 4, 2014.  Multinational companies in Nandi have signed a deal with the county government to surrender 1,000 acres of land for the construction of an industrial park.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Multinational companies in Nandi have signed a deal with the county government to surrender 1,000 acres of land for the construction of an industrial park.

In return, the multinationals will be allowed to automate tea harvesting.

Some 60,000 tea workers have been rendered jobless following the introduction of tea-plucking machines to cut down on operational costs.

The county government says the Sh500 million industrial park to be constructed in Nandi Hills will create 50,000 new jobs.

The deal signed on Tuesday is viewed as a win-win situation for both parties to resolve the protracted expired land leases and dispute over the mechanisation of tea harvesting.

Agriculture executive Kiplimo Lagat said those who lost jobs after the multinationals introduced tea plucking machines will be offered employment once the industrial park becomes operational.

“Eastern Produce Company of Kenya, Nandi Tea and George Williamson are some of the tea companies that have agreed to surrender a total of 1,000 acres of land to enable the county government put up the industrial park,” Dr Lagat said. 

Governor Stephen Sang formed a task force chaired by former Cabinet minister John Cheruiyot to address issues in the tea sector.

The national government, through the Ministry of Trade, has allocated Sh250 million to the project while the county government will contribute Sh250 million.

Governor Sang has welcomed the decision of the National Land Commission (NLC) to order a fresh survey to determine acreage under tea plantations and renewal of expired land leases.

Workers sacked

Most multinationals in the county have sacked thousands of workers following the introduction of tea-plucking machines that have led to protracted strikes and legal battles.

But senior managers from the companies have defended the move. “We have no option but to outsource some of our services, including tea plucking, to enable us to remain in operation,” said one of the senior managers who requested not to be named due to stringent protocols in the company.

“Plucking machines have been introduced in most tea-producing countries and Kenya is not an exception, especially in this era of mechanised agriculture to cut down on production costs,” said another senior manager at Nandi Hills who requested not to be named since he is not authorised to speak to the media.

“The machines consume less fuel and are managed by one person who can do the work of more than 20 tea pickers, cutting down the cost of production by a big margin,” said a director at one of the tea firms.

Most tea companies pay tea pickers Sh15.50 per kilogramme of green leaves while workers operating the plucking machines are paid Sh4 per kilo.

Kenya Plantation and Agriculture Workers Union (KPAWU) National Chairman Eliakim Ochieng said tea companies in Nandi, Kericho, Bomet and Kiambu counties have sent home some of their workers and scaled-down operations due to prolonged dry drought.

“It is hard economic times for workers who have to cope with the skyrocketing cost of basic commodities now that they no longer have a steady source of income,” said Mr Ochieng.

According to Mr Ochieng, the tea picking department is hardest hit, with 15,000 workers losing jobs in Nandi, 20,000 in Kericho, 15,000 in Bomet and 10,000 in Kiambu.

“Some of these tea companies have taken advantage of the shortage of green tea leaves as a result of the drought to sack tea pickers after outsourcing workers in some departments,” said Mr Ochieng.

KPAWU has petitioned the tea firms to suspend outsourcing of workers to protect jobs.

It took issue with Tindiret, Kaimosi and Kapchorwa tea companies, operating under Williamson Tea Company, over the privatisation of tea plucking.

“Sub-contracting plucking of tea to private contractors will lead to loss of jobs and exploitation of workers by the tea companies,” Mr Ochieng said.

He said private contractors pay tea workers Sh300 daily as opposed to Sh650 when they operate under the multinationals.