The Tea Bill sailed through the debate stage in the National Assembly yesterday setting the stage that will radically alter vending and auctioning of the cash crop in the country.
However, this will only come to pass if MPs pass the Bill in its current form when it comes back at the third reading stage -- where MPs incorporate their ideas into bills through amendments.
The proposed law by Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot was passed in the Senate last year before being introduced into the National Assembly.
The regulations also incorporate the counties in running of the cash crop in a bid to ensure that farmers gets value for money away from unscrupulous businessmen and brokers.
Tea produced in the country is one of the best quality types and among the most sought after across the world.
At some point, tea was one of Kenya’s leading cash crop earners alongside tourism and diaspora remittances before it was relegated, thanks to inefficiencies and cartel business blamed on the Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA).
The Bill, therefore, seeks to reintroduce the Tea Board of Kenya (TBK), away from the Agriculture Food Authority (AFA) to regulate, develop and promote the product in the country.
TBK existed before the directorates under agriculture were collapsed under AFA in 2014 in what was billed as an attempt to ensure efficiency in the sector.
The Bill proposes creation of the Tea Regulatory Authority of Kenya (TRAK) domiciled in Nairobi.
Senator Cheruiyot had wanted TRAK to be based in Kericho but the proposal was shot down in favour of Nairobi.
Yesterday, MPs Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu), Godfrey Osotsi (nominated) and Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira) were in support of the Bill saying it will address the mess that has seen farmers lose big despite efforts put in the production of the crop.
Mr Nyoro said that AFA has failed in ensuring that tea farmers get good value for their crop.
“You can’t expect a dead and buried cow to give you milk. AFA is dead and buried,” said Mr Nyoro.
Mr Osotsi noted that management fees KTDA charges farmers (three per cent of turnover) are too high.
He wants the fees reduced to at least one per cent because the core business of KTDA is to manage over 600,000 farmers growing the crop and who have at least six million dependants.
“The challenges that tea farmers go through are just too much,” Mr Osotsi said, adding that “a majority of the farmers have uprooted because they do not benefit.”
“This AFA thing has not helped the country. It has led to more inefficiency and corruption in the management of the crop while reducing the farmers to poverty. We need to repeal the AFA Act and go back to where we were,” he said.
Mr Gachagua accused KTDA of going to bed with cartels and engaging in many insider dealings.
“The farmers don’t benefit,” he said.
“KTDA has abdicated its core mandate and has gone into generation of power, insurance and is even in banking. Tea farmers need value for the efforts employed in crop production,” he added.
Senator Cheruiyot’s proposal is to create a TRAK board with a three-year mandate, with the chair appointed by the president and single appointees from the top seven tea producing counties appointed by the Council of Governors (CoG).