Small-scale tea farmers in western change tack as earnings dwindle - Daily Nation

Small-scale tea farmers in western Kenya change tack as earnings dwindle

Tuesday June 26 2018

Workers at a tea estate in Kericho. file photo | nmg

Workers at a tea estate in Kericho. file photo | nmg 

By DERICK LUVEGA
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By BENSON AMADALA   
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Small-scale tea farmers in Kakamega and Vihiga counties are shifting their focus to alternative sources of income despite the huge potential for the cash crop.

Growers, who own tiny parcels of land usually ranging between an acre to five, are uprooting their tea to create room for other food crops.

Some are turning to dairy farming, poultry and horticulture.

This comes as the Kakamega and Vihiga county governments pledge to inject some financial support to revive tea farming in the region.

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya is upbeat about tea farming in the county.

The crop is mainly grown in Shinyalu, Ikolomani and parts of Khwisero.

The county chief has launched construction of a factory at Madala trading centre in Shinyalu Constituency and asked farmers to embrace tea farming.

Mr Oparanya said the county government would support farmers to buy a 30 per cent stake in the factory which is being put up by an investor identified by the county government, with an initial investment of Sh30 million.

Unenthusiastic

In Vihiga County, most farmers in Hamisi and Sabatia sub-counties are unenthusiastic about devoting their time and resources in cultivation of tea after failing to make any profits from the crop.

They have left their tea bushes unattended, dimming prospects of good returns in future.

Those still cultivating the crop said they have lost hope because of low bonus payments that is not commensurate with the effort they put into the farms daily.

Currently, Mudete tea factory receives tea leaves from farmers in Vihiga and the neighbouring Kakamega County and are paid Sh15 per kilogramme.

Last year, the processor paid farmers a bonus of Sh28.50 per kilogramme.

Mr John Mutimburi, a tea farmer from Emuhaya sub-county said: "I am frustrated. I am considering uprooting the bushes and cultivating other crops. Tea has made me poorer and unable to sustain life needs."

He said a majority of farmers do not receive extension services and farm subsidies thus affecting the quality of tea crop.

Mr Victor Mageni from Sabatia sub-county is unhappy with the amount paid for a kilogramme of tea, given the efforts and labour that go into maintaining the crop

Hawk produce

Another group of farmers said they have opted to hawk their produce to neighbouring privately owned tea factories in Nandi County.

They are selling their produce to private processors through a scheme they have dubbed ‘M-Pesa’ because they receive instant payment.

The scheme, though, is denying Mudete factory enough raw material to enable it attain its annual capacity of 20 million kilogrammes of processed tea.

For instance, the private tea processors are paying farmers a minimum of Sh26 per kilogramme daily unlike the monthly payment being offered by Mudete Tea factory.