The Fairtrade Africa (FTA) organization has added its voice in calling for the government to review the Tea Policy that abolished direct sales and trading of tea in the tea sector. Former President Uhuru Kenyatta in December 2018, signed into law the Tea Bill of 2018 which provides that all tea processed and manufactured in Kenya for export, with the exception of orthodox and speciality, be offered for sale exclusively at the auction floor. The law rattled players in the sector, especially tea producers, who have stated that the new law has since affected their sales with buyers shifting to other countries. Addressing the media on Thursday, Casper Pedo, representative of East and Central Africa at Fairtrade Africa said that they were looking for ways to engage the government to be more flexible for the producers who have already secured direct markets so that they do not have to go through the auction. “It is actually very important because these are already determined markets and so taking the products through the auction may not necessarily be for the greater value of the producer.” “This is one area we are working towards engaging the government on and see how there could be a leeway around it,” said Pedo. He was speaking on the sidelines of the inaugural East Africa Tea Trade Association and Fairtrade Africa round table forum held at the English Point Marina. The key discussion area of the forum was “Trading of Sustainable Teas from East & Central Africa”. Bernard Njoroge, Fairtrade Africa’s senior programs officer supporting tea producers in Kenya said that the regulation had impacted negatively on the tea sector. Njoroge said that the government should have first checked on the impacts and effects it would have before bringing a new regulation. “What we are asking is, what was driving the government in bringing this new tea regulation because the traders in the country have talked and the farmers have felt the impact. For the first time we have found more than six million kilograms of tea not being sold crossing over the following year,” said Njoroge. He said that the tea is losing its freshness and will not fetch good money in the market and will thus create poverty. He reiterated that tea is one of the main foreign earners for the country, therefore it is very important to see how that regulation is driving the buyers from the country to other countries reviewed. “About 70 per cent of buyers could not access the market last year, and for those who managed to, had to fight so much to receive waivers from the government,” he said. He said that the drop in sales was not about quality, but about regulation. He added that there are buyers who want to access their tea through the direct market and as such need to be given the opportunity to do so. He said that the moment buyers have a direct market, it means the freshness of the tea is assured, but if not, then buyers have to wait for more than thirty days thus affecting the quality of the tea. “Kenya is the biggest exporter of black tea in the world, we drive the market because we produce superior quality tea, and it is not about quality but regulation. If a buyer has to wait for almost 60 days, the tea loses quality, he loses income and Kenya loses income too,” he said. He further asked the government to have a sit-down with producers to resolve the matter. Mwenje Njeru, a tea producer and chairman of the Mungene tea factory in Embu County stressed the fact that the policy needs to be rethought. He said that in 2020, about 25 per cent of the sales volume in his factory was through direct sales. “With the implementation of the new regulation, the volumes dropped to a mere 3 per cent in 2021,” Njeru said. He added that “Even the stock I have is equivalent to the same percentage of sale carried forward as closing stock. This is some volume which we could have sold through this direct outlet”. Njeru who also chairs the Kenya Tea Network which does advocacy and lobbying as far as tea is concerned, asked county governments to join the push in advocating for the return of direct sales. He argued that the regulation has pushed buyers to other countries because they can no longer buy directly from farmers. “This is because if we sell all of our tea through the auction, it means that those buyers who could get our tea within five days of production will have to wait for a month or so. We are really pressing for it because we know what it means for the economy and our country,” he said.
Source: The Star