26 Jun

The government has been urged to review the ban on direct sale of tea by factories. The government in 2020 prohibited factories from selling the commodity directly to buyers and made it mandatory for all tea to go through the Mombasa auction. Agriculture CS Peter Munya said this was one of the loopholes that unscrupulous tea factories’ directors used to misappropriate farmers’ money. But some farmers have said they have been benefitting from higher sales made from buyers who go directly to the factories. Mwangi Kaguma, the chairperson of Gatunguru tea factory, said on Tuesday the factory has benefited from direct sales of coffee made through Fairtrade Africa. Kaguma said tea produced in the factory has received certification that boosts buyers’ confidence. He spoke when he hosted a meeting with members of Fairtrade Africa at the factory. The organisation brings together growers, marketers and buyers.

Since 2016 when the factory joined Fairtrade Africa, it has also received Sh42 million in premiums that are issued on top of money made from sales. They are aimed at supporting growers at the factory and community level. “We have taken them round our factory so they can see how our produce is processed and the work done with the money they have given us,” Kaguma said. The premiums have enabled the factory to implement a gravity water project and the procurement of a tea collection truck. The factory has also donated tea leaves to local schools and health facilities through funds from Fairtrade, with Nyakianga Health Centre receiving a photocopier and laptop. Kaguma said direct sale of tea to local farmers has also boosted its earnings as they fetch more money than at the Mombasa auction. The factory has 8,334 registered farmers and has produced about 19 million kilos of green leaf tea in the 2021-22 financial year. “We are encouraging farmers to continue buying tea directly from the factory to support themselves and the factory,” Kaguma said. He praised farmers for plucking good quality tea that has enabled the factory to receive certification from the company. Bernard Muiruri Njoroge, a director at Fairtrade Africa in Kenya, said Gatunguru tea factory’s case is a testimony that farmers should be allowed to seek their own markets. He said though most of the farmers are for the reforms that the government has been implementing, direct sales give them more returns than the auction.

Some international buyers, he said, prefer buying tea from factories rather than the auction. This is because they are able to create a good relationship with the growers and follow up on the husbandry practices used which enhances their confidence. Fairtrade Africa has 23 tea factories under it, 19 of which are run by KTDA while the rest are owned by individuals. “Once farmers are certified under the company, they are exposed to an array of marketers and buyers who buy such commodities only through it,” Njoroge said. Certification ensures the tea fetches much higher prices as it ensures growers follow the conditions given. “My work is to ensure the farmer follows the certification requirements before they are audited and the commodity sold to buyers,” Njoroge said. Laure Tanti, a member of Fairtrade International board, said the company conducts numerous visits to tea, coffee and flower producers in the country and in Uganda. The visits help buyers and marketers better understand how producers operate and how they can help create channels of distribution for the produce. “Currently, there are board members in different tea and coffee factories, and plantations. It is extremely important for us to be here to see how they use premiums and the challenges they face around the market and climate change that affect their production,” she said. 

Source: The Star