The Senate ad hoc committee on tea wants President Kenyatta to form a commission of inquiry to look into issues raised by farmers against the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA).
The team will investigate alleged misappropriation of farmers’ income in dubious investments by the agency.
Senators Ephraim Maina (Nyeri), Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho), Mithika Linturi (Meru) and George Khaniri (Vihiga), had written to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to probe embezzlement of funds at KTDA.
They said thousands of farmers from 21 tea growing counties were suffering due to hoarding of their bonuses by the agency.
The senators also called for investigations into alleged loss of Sh21 billion belonging to farmers following the collapse of Chase and Imperial banks.
They attributed increased depression and suicide rates in tea growing areas to a dip in earnings.
During public hearings by the committee in six counties, farmers said there was lack of transparency and accountability.
The team observed that growers faced numerous challenges in their attempts to eke a living out of tea.
Challenges included low farm gate prices, poor extension services, poor access to credit and low level of farmers’ participation in decision making at various chains.
There were gaps in the policy and legal frameworks in the regulation of tea production as well as marketing of the finished products.
In Murang’a, farmers said the county government had improved feeder roads in coffee producing areas but left out those in tea zones.
They also raised concerns that the Tea Board and Tea Research Institute had been reduced into small entities when the Agriculture and Food Authority was formed, rendering them ineffective.
“We recommend tea be removed from AFA and have a board created in its place,” noted the committee report by Embu Senator Njeru Ndwiga.
Farmers also said there was conflict in role performance between the national and county governments as well as KTDA.
They said there was need to review taxes on tea so as to harmonise levies charged by the county and national government to eliminate double taxation.
Farmers also want the government to ban tea hawking because it affects the quality and quantity of tea delivered to factories.
The Senate committee asked government to review licensing regulations for cottage tea factories to ensure applicants have adequate green leaf to ensure the establishment of such will not adversely affect the existing factories through hawking of green leaf.
Farmers also told the committee that the leadership of the KTDA-affiliated factories was wanting in that once they elect the management officials, they sideline farmers.
They also want to be issued with fertiliser at low prices and increase 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 in Embu adding that at the end of the year farmers should be paid Sh20 bringing the total payment to Sh120.
The Senate committee also noted that the East Africa Tea Trade Association, which is involved in facilitating the buying and selling of black tea at the Mombasa auction, does not represent the Kenya tea industry stakeholder’s best interests.
They said it was a barrier that perpetrates the monopoly of KTDA by blocking individual buyers to bid during the auction, unless such buyers are registered by EATTA.
“There needs to be transparency and accountability in tea transactions,” recommended the senate committee.
They also advised for stringent penalties to be meted on brokers who collude to fix prices at the auction.
Mr 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 produce buyer.
Mr Maina said just like the ailing coffee and sugar sectors, tea faces imminent death if quick interventions were not done to ensure reorganisation of KTDA to give ordinary farmers interests a priority.
“As the former PM emphasised, it is high time cartels trading in the sector were dismantled. Most tea growers are on their knees due to exploitation. The time to save the tea industry is now,” Mr Maina said.
The senator said KTDA accounts should be audited by the auditor general 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 KTDA management should be 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 coffee took 20 years ago before it died.
“It is the same route that sugarcane took and today it is mostly dead,” Mr Maina said and regretted that some farmers were uprooting tea crop.
The Senator said the government should support agriculture as a priority for economic development.
“When agriculture develops, other sectors will follow starting with food supply to the people, education standards will improve, industries will spring up and economy will grow through exports of food,” Mr Maina said.
More resources, he said, should be channelled towards reviving agriculture.
“At the moment the people of Western Kenya are not growing sugarcane, the North Rift residents have difficulties growing maize and those in Central have seen coffee, tea and dairy sector which were their economic mainstay collapse,” Mr Maina said.
The government, he said, should develop policies “that will bring back agriculture of this country to the level it was in the 1970s.”
“Kenya is an agricultural country, endowed with good soil, good climate and rain from God. In fact in this country there are areas you can grow four crops, for instance, vegetables in a year,” Mr Maina said.
He added: “I would strongly urge the government to ensure that small scale farmers whom large population of the country depends on should be seriously assisted using public funds.”
In the 1970s, he recalled, Kenya imported yellow maize but Mzee Jomo Kenyatta vowed and put measures to make the country self-sufficient in food production.
“At the time, the government developed guaranteed minimum returns and immediately Kenya started witnessing bumper harvest. I would urge the government to adopt similar programmes. I have no doubt in my mind that if we develop agriculture, Kenya’s economy will be strong,” Mr Maina said.