The quest to reform the tea sector has created a rift between the state and industry players, threatening to derail much-needed changes.
The stand-off between Agriculture CS Peter Munya and the Kenya Tea Development Agency has left farmers in limbo, even as they continue to toil in their farms amid low returns this year, occasioned by a weak shilling against the dollar.
Low uptake of the crop in the international markets in the wake of Covid-19 has seen the commodity’s prices remain below the traditional 2-dollar mark at the weekly Mombasa auction, signalling low returns for farmers.
Munya is pushing the Crops (Tea Industry) Regulations 2020 into law, but KTDA is pushing back, as it believes the rules will reduce its influence on tea trade. The agency is seen to deny farmers their rightful earnings.
Munya’s push comes after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s pronouncements at the start of the year to increase smallholder tea farmer earnings through various initiatives.
On January 14, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered reforms to help raise farmers’ earnings and improve the tea value chain.
The directives were also intended to eliminate sector inefficiencies and improve transparency as well as governance.
According to Munya, the President directed the ministry to address corruption and exploitation of farmers and conflict of interest in the management of the value chain.
“The reform of the value chain is to increase revenues to farmers as opposed to middlemen and brokers, the problem of falling earnings for farmers and related issues of inefficiencies in the tea value chain, low tea prices, delayed payments, low initial payments or bonus and fluctuating net earnings to farmers,” he said.
KTDA has however argued that regulations will strangle smallholder tea farmers if adopted.
According to its lawyer, Benson Millimo, the regulations will significantly reduce tea farmers’ earnings; thereby achieving the opposite result of what their intended objective was.
“What these tea regulations would actually do is increase bureaucracy seeing that what the Cabinet Secretary has done is to bring in more regulations and conditions on matters of tea farming,” he said.
The Council of Governors this month said it will move to court to stop the implementation of the proposed regulations, terming them illegal.
The stand-off leaves tea farmers in the dark over reforms, even as questions abound over who is pro-farmers, who have been told to expect lower bonuses this season due to a glut that reduced prices in the international market.
KTDA chairman Peter Kanyago has pegged the low returns on overproduction of green leaf, which caused prices to plummet.
A section of farmers has however protested high deductions to finance the agency’s operations, blaming it for reducing their earnings.