Tea farmers lament over low bonuses and high debts
Tea farmers from Murang'a have urged the government to come to their rescue and waive their debts which they owe financial institutions. The farmers have also lamented over poor bonus payments.
The farmers said they are drowning deeper into debts due to the dwindling tea earnings and as they are not been able to service their loans.
Speaking during a forum which had been convened by the Parliamentary Committee of delegated legislation at Kiru Tea Factory, they protested low bonus payment for this year terming it as demoralizing.
Jacinta Wanjiru said just like the coffee and sugarcane farmers the government should also bail the tea farmers out of their debts.
"Almost everyone here has a loan in the bank and we are worried that we might not be able to repay the debts because the bonus pay is very low" she said.
She said the farmers rely on loans due to delayed payment by the tea agency and they get the money to meet their basic needs.
Wanjiru said she supports the proposed reforms in the tea sector as they will ensure they get paid in time.
Her sentiments were echoed by Joseph Wangara who said the government should establish a minimum guarantee return price for tea.
Wangara said this will cushion farmers from flactuating prices from time to time and they will be assured of a constant pay.
"We don't know how the tea agency calculates the bonus payment and decides how the factories will pay its farmers" he said.
He also supported the proposal to have all the tea sold through the Mombasa auction saying this will put in the open the prices at which the tea is trading.
The farmers also urged the government to consider reducing the taxes levied on tea claiming that over-taxation has been denying them their rightful benefits.
Kenya Tea Development Agency officials however expressed their reservations over the reforms saying the agency cannot be able to implement some of the proposals.
Stephen Githiga, Chairman Kiru Tea Factory said the proposal to have 40 percent value addition of the tea done at the factory level can only be done if they can get better equipment.
He also said channeling of the black tea through the auction should also apply for the multinational companies who are operating in the country.
"This should not be done by the KTDA alone otherwise it will create unhealthy competition and the farmers will lose out" he said.
He proposed among other things the formation of an independent tea ministry to manage the sector, tax incentives to the agency as well as the farmers.
Mbeere North Member of Parliament Muriuki Njagagua who is the committee's vice chair said the regulations seek to streamline the operations at KTDA and ensure the farmer's plight is addressed.
"We shall take to account all the views given by the farmers and scrutinize them to get the way forward" he said.
Njagagua said Kenya produces the best quality tea and is the largest tea exporter yet the farmers do not get to enjoy the benefits.
"Sri Lanka which produces less tea than us is able to make more earnings from the produce, and we want the same for our farmers," he said.