Tea directors push for reforms in the sector

Tea directors

Gatundu South MP Gabriel Kagombe and some KTDA directors addressing the media at Sagana Getaway Resort in Murang'a.

Photo credit: James Murimi I Nation Media Group

Tea directors and company secretaries from 30 factories in Central Kenya are meeting to entrench reforms in the sector and boost farmers’ productivity.

The top officials from Meru, Embu, Kirinyaga, Tharaka Nithi, Nyeri, Murang’a and Kiambu counties are reviewing a draft management agreement reached between tea factory companies and the Kenya Tea Development Agency Management Services ((KTDA-MS).

KTDA-MS is the management agent at the factory level.

They want to remove some clauses in the agreement that they claim are hindering the independence of boards of directors of tea factories.

KTDA company secretary Patrick Ngunjiri said the national process is spearheaded by factory directors, company secretaries and the Tea Board of Kenya.

“The section in the agreement which requires all the tea to be sold in the auction is suspended despite it being implemented,” Mr Ngunjiri told the media in Sagana, Murang’a. 

“The section requiring the tenure of the directors to be 10 years also remains suspended.”

Mr Ngunjiri said other clauses in the agreement have derailed operations at the Tea Board of Kenya.

“We have other suspended sections that have been hampering the functioning of the Tea Board of Kenya,” he said. 

“There is a section that has denied the board the powers to formulate rules meant to regulate the tea sector. This clause makes the board a toothless bulldog in its role of regulating the sector.

“These meetings have been taking place within the east of Rift to ensure that there is completeness of tea sector reforms and that the management agreement is acceptable to all the parties.” 

Gatundu South MP Gabriel Kagombe, who is also a company secretary for various factories, accused KTDA-MS of mismanaging factories and oppressing farmers with huge charges.

“Companies that offer tea management services at the factory level have a fee that they charge that has over the years been oppressive to the farmer,” Mr Kagombe said. 

“The contracted company is supposed to collect the fee and run its operations. However, KTDA-MS collects the fee and continues to charge the farmer to cater for its expenses like payment of its staff.

“The money that is levied at 2.5 percent of gross sales should be used to run their operations, including paying their employees.”

The first-time MP also accused KTDA-MS of running factory accounts without disclosing its operations to tea farmers.

“The proceeds from the sale of tea are supposed to be remitted to the accounts owned and operated by the tea factory,” Mr Kagombe said. 

“However, KTDA-MS collects, operates and manages these accounts without the consultation of farmers. They are run in secrecy. This is what we want to change after these meetings.”

The lawmaker called for all stakeholders in the tea sector to push for full implantation of the 2020 Tea Act.

“We want to synchronise the agreement so that all the factories read from the same script so that we echo what was recommended by

The Tea Act, 2020,” he said on the sidelines of the meeting. 

“If we operationalise the Act as it is, we will spur tea production and value addition.”

President William Ruto has said his administration wants to boost value addition, agro-processing and industrialisation so that farmers can get value for their produce.

Dr Ruto promised that his government, through the Ministry of Trade, will bring all farmers into cooperatives, saccos and other organisations so as to boost production.

“Today, I held a meeting with some stakeholders on the issues of addition and agro-processing on coffee and tea,” Dr Ruto said on Tuesday at Hiriga in Mathira constituency during the burial of Jackson Reriani, a brother of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. 

“We are the country that sells a lot of tea globally which is of high quality. Our farmers must get enough payment for their produce.”

Factory directors lauded President Ruto for his commitment to entrenching tea reforms initiated by his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta.

“Last week, there was an invasion by former directors but the government came up strongly to protect the farmer. Directors are happy with the support offered by President Ruto’s government in implementing reforms in the tea sector,” Mr Ngunjiri said.