The Senate Agriculture Committee has recommended that President Uhuru Kenyatta forms a taskforce that will look into issues raised by farmers against the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA).
The team should check into alleged misappropriation of farmers’ income in dubious investments that do not earn profit.
During public hearings by the senate ad hoc committee in six tea growing counties, farmers said there was lack of transparency and unaccountability in KTDA.
The committee observed that tea farmers are faced with numerous challenges in their endeavour to eke out a living from the crop.
Challenges cited included low farm gate prices, poor extension services, poor access to credit and low level of farmers’ participation in decision making along various value chains.
Gaps were also observed in the policy and legal frameworks in the regulation of tea production as well as marketing of the finished products.
In Murang’a, farmers noted that the county government has improved feeder roads in coffee producing area but left out those in tea zones.
They also raised concerns the Tea Board of Kenya and the Tea Research Institute have been reduced into small entities when the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) was formed, thus rendering the tea directorate ineffective.
“We recommend that tea be removed from AFA and a board created in its place,” noted the committee report by Embu Senator Njeru Ndwiga.
Farmers also noted that there was a conflict in roles between the national and county governments as well as KTDA in respect to the tea sector and there should be a clear separation.
They also said there is need to review the taxation regime on tea so as to harmonies levies charged by the county and national governments to eliminate double taxation.
Tea farmers also wanted the government to intervene and ban tea hawking that is affecting the quality and quantity of leaves delivered to factories.
The Senate committee asked the government to review licensing regulations for cottage tea factories to ensure applicants have adequate green leaf so that their establishment does not adversely affect the existing factories through hawking of green leaf.
Farmers also told the committee that the leadership of KTDA-affiliated factories is wanting since after management officials are elected, they side-line farmers.
They also want affordable fertilizer and an increase in the monthly price per kilogramme of green leaf.
“Every farmer should be paid Sh20 per kilo of green leaf and after six months Sh50 mini bonus as opposed to Sh5,” said a farmer from Embu, adding that at the end of the year, farmers should be paid Sh20, bringing the total payment to Sh120 per kilo.
The Senate committee also noted that the East African Tea Trade Association, which is involved in the buying and selling of black tea at the Mombasa auction, does not represent Kenya’s best interests.
“There needs to be transparency and accountability in tea transactions,” recommended the Senate committee.
They also advised that there be stringent penalties on brokers who collude to fix prices at the tea auction.
Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina, who has been at forefront fighting for farmers’ issues, also called for the transformation of KTDA and an end to its monopoly as the tea buyer.
Mr Maina said just like the ailing coffee and sugar sectors, tea faces imminent death if quick interventions are not brought in to ensure a reorganisation of KTDA to give priority to ordinary farmers.
The senator said KTDA’s accounts should be checked by the Auditor-General’s office as it deals with public funds.
“It should be subjected to public statutes as it is a farmers’ organisation. Currently it is under corporate law and the Auditor-General does not look into its accounts,” Mr Maina said.
He said voting for the KTDA management should be through one-farmer-one-vote “and anyone who thinks he is too big should establish his own tea processing system”.
Mr Maina said the tea sector is following the same route that coffee took 20 years ago before it died.
“It is the same route that sugarcane took and today it is largely dead,” Mr Maina said and regretted that some farmers are uprooting tea bushes.
The Senator said the government should support agriculture as a priority for economic development.