26 Aug

A State-owned tea company is counting losses worth millions of shillings after irate farmers invaded the factory and looted property in a protracted row of slashed tea prices.

Hundreds of farmers stormed Kipchabo tea factory on Saturday, broke into the warehouse and made away with tea of unknown value. This came a day after they set ablaze a lorry to protest at reduced tea prices from Sh30 to Sh19 per kilogramme.

The dispute has paralysed operations at the factory, with the farmers demanding an overhaul of the management. They accuse officials of corruption and favouritism.

Five protesters were arrested on Friday over the burning of a lorry transporting green tea.

The farmers led by Mr Gideon Too and Mr Timon Muttai want the Nyayo Tea Zone Regional Manager Pius Kirui and Kipchabo Manager Joel Maina removed from office, accusing them of running down the tea processing firm.

“Operations at the factory will not resume until the government overhauls the management team, which has subjected farmers to financial difficulties due to low pay for their produce,” Mr Mutai said. But Nyayo Tea Zones Corporations Managing Director Peter Korir faulted the farmers for damaging the factory’s properties, attributing the dwindling tea prices to surplus of the commodity in the global market and the effects of Covid-19.

“The damage caused by farmers has disrupted our operations and affected revenue generation, and it is high time we embrace dialogue in resolving disputes,” Mr Korir said while dismissing the corruption allegations.

“The tea prices had improved from Sh18 to Sh30 per kilo, but they have since plummeted due to the global impact of Covid-19,” Mr Korir explained.

Anti-riot police engaged the protesting farmers in a running battles on Thursday and Saturday after they looted tea awaiting transportation to auction in Mombasa.

Nandi North police boss Omukolongolo Bosut said a manhunt has been launched for the farmers who burnt the lorry. The small scale tea farmers are at crossroads over high production costs caused by hiked fertiliser prices.

They have been forced to dig deep into their pockets to buy top-dressing fertilisers from retailers at Sh2,800 per 50kg bag after the Kenya Tea Development Agency cancelled bulk procurement due to coronavirus.

Retail prices

The agency sells fertiliser to its members at about Sh1,990 per 50kg bag. “The drop in world tea prices is a total blow considering that we have to incur extra costs buying fertiliser at retail prices. The crop was also damaged by frost and hailstones in the last two seasons, and it might take long before the prices stabilise, subjecting us to heavy losses,” said Mr Mathew Too from Chepkumia, Nandi County.

The demand of tea in world market has remained low; going at Sh186 a kilo after traders bought high volumes of the commodity in the past four months due to uncertainties of Covid-19.

Source: Nation Media