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Tea Board of Kenya calls for vigilance at tea buying centres

The Tea Board of Kenya has asked small holder tea farmers to be vigilant when delivering their green leaf at buying centres to avoid falling prey to a tea swindling syndicate that has seen farmers lose their produce owing to doctored weighing scales at the tea buying centres.

According to Samuel Njane, a compliance and surveillance officer at TBK, farmers from tea growing counties have raised numerous complaints about a suspected racket where factories have been colluding with centre managers to steal green leaf from unsuspecting farmers by manipulating the weighing scales.

“We are asking tea farmers to stay alert and report to us whenever they spot any malpractice at the buying centres. So far we have witnessed a considerable improvement in Nyeri county since our last ambush but there are still a few malpractices that are being recorded,” said Njane.

On Friday, TBK jointly with inspectors from Weights and Measures mounted an impromptu inspection around tea buying centres in Othaya in Nyeri County where one weighing scale was confiscated and others recommended to be inspected.

In Munyange tea buying centre, tea pickers were shocked to discover that the weighing scale that was being used to weigh their green leaf had been tampered with.

During the inspection, officers from the Weights and Measures unearthed how farmers at the centre were losing 200grams of green leaf for every one kilogram weighed.

“We have been complaining about this problem to our committee chairman for quite some time but nothing ever changes. Yesterday, I lost close to 15 kilograms during the morning and afternoon sessions. My request to have the leaf reweighed by the clerk was also declined. These raids should be frequent to keep the factories and their clerks in check,” said Rachel Nderitu, one of the famers who delivers tea to the centre.

James Gichuhi, a tea picker said that he suspects that some of the tea factories have been deliberately issuing out calibrated scales to clerks in order to steal tea from farmers. He said that their attempts to raise their concerns had been quelled by reassurances from the factories that the scales would be re-inspected.

“Sometimes you pick so much tea but when you get here the weighing scale surprises you by indicating very low weight. A while ago we complained about this problem to the tea factory. Surprisingly, we were threatened that whoever would touch that scale would be charged for tampering with factory property,” he said.

At the Gaturuturu tea collection centre, weighing of tea had to stop after it emerged that farmers were losing nearly many kilograms each to a faulty weighing machine. When the inspectors from the Weights and Measures suspended a 35 kilogram weighing stone, the scale indicated that it weighed 33.5 kilograms.

The chairman of the centre Boniface Ndirangu together with the clerk had a hard time trying to explain to farmers who had weighed their leaf before the inspection team arrived, how they would be compensated.

Mr Njane noted that despite issuing guidelines on how the tea weighing process should be undertaken, many clerks were flouting the regulations. For instance, the inspection team was surprised to find that some clerks could not produce the test weight receipt which is the first receipt that is used to confirm that the weighing scale is in mint condition.

Additionally, in all tea buying centres that the inspection team ambushed, the weighing scale which is supposed to be suspended had been placed in a wooden compartment.

Joseph Njaramba, an inspector from the Weights and Measures stated that they will be raising the issues with the respective factories to ensure compliance.

“We have noted a few irregularities such as tampering with the quality assurance stamps and the weighing scales and test weight have also not been certified this year. We will also be following up with the factories to establish the procedure used to issue out the weighing scales to the clerks and if factories are adhering to the laid down procedure,” said Njaramba.

By Wangari Mwangi and Kiama Wamutitu


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