Showdown looms as tea lobby fronts new system to elect directors

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020 00:00 |
A small scale tea farmer picks tea. Photo/PD/File

Lewis Njoka @LewisNjoka

A showdown is looming in the smallholder tea sub-sector over a proposal to change how factory directors are elected, a move that could see many of the current leaders lose their positions.

This is one of the several radical changes on smallholder tea management proposed by the Tea Sector Lobby Group in a letter sent to the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Peter Munya, last week. 

The group is proposing the adoption of one-grower-one-vote system, a fundamental shift from the current election format where the weight of a vote depends on the amount of tea a farmer produces.

It blamed the current election system of advancing personal interests in the management of tea factories to the disadvantage of smallholder farmers. 

It said over the years, the sector had experienced dwindling fortunes as a result of under-regulation that has allowed cartels to benefit at the expense of tea farmers. 

“We are therefore proposing for the Memorandum and Articles of the tea factories to provide that every grower has one vote with elections being conducted by an independent body as determined by the factory board,” said the lobby chairman, Irungu Nyakera in a statement.

Tea stakeholders have, for a long time, complained that some directors have remained in the office for decades elected by only a few large shareholders at the expense of the majority. 

In a move likely to elicit resistance, the lobby wants Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) compelled to sell off its eight subsidiaries and the money distributed to tea factories.  

Investment decisions

The lobby proposes that KTDA, which manages tea factories on behalf of farmers, should not be a party to tea factory investment decisions, saying this will ensure funds are fully controlled by factory directors.

In another proposal that will hit KTDA hard, the Nyakera-led group is suggesting that farmers be paid for their tea within 14 days of sale failure to which the marketer will be slapped with penalties.

KTDA Chief Executive Officer Lerionka Tiampati said he had not seen the lobby group’s views, adding that he would only react to proposals by Agriculture ministry which is currently collating views from tea sector stakeholders.

“We have been told to present our findings to the Cabinet Secretary, which we have done, and everybody else has been told to do the same.

Let the ministry put them together, whatever they come up with is what we will comment on,” said Tiampati.

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