Farmers in Kirinyaga County are seeking to have the current number of tea factory directors downsized from six to two.
The farmers said Kenya Tea Development Agency had become an exploitative monster over the years leaving them its impoverished servants.
They asked the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya to hasten the ongoing reforms in the sector which they said would rescue them from further exploitation.
Speaking at Mugumo primary school grounds in Kirinyaga East Sub-county during a reform participatory meeting Saturday, the farmers also sought to have the 2.5 per cent Agency fee reduced to 1.5 which would save them about Sh1 billion per year.
Led by David Gachoki, the farmers further urged Munya to ensure an urgent lifestyle audit of the entire KTDA Board of Directors was carried out regardless of the legal block the said board is putting up.
“Bwana minister we as tea farmers are aware the KTDA board has moved to court to block an intended audit by the relevant government agencies and an investigation by the DCI. We will not allow this to happen since the Agency belongs to us and we have not been consulted over the move,” Gachoki said.
The highly charged farmers told the minister how they had been exploited over the years and even being denied their democratic rights to participate in the election of Factory Directors.
“We are seeking to have these draconian election rules the KTDA imposed in order to deny us our rights to vote scrapped to provide for a one grower one vote and not based on the number of green tea kilograms one delivers,” said Mithamo wa Susana, a farmer.
Wa Susana added that presently, only farmers with a minimum of 2, 500 kilograms participated in elections for the directors while it’s a fact that most of the growers could only produce an average of 500 kilograms due to land fragmentation.
Munya on the other hand assured the farmers the reforms have since become law adding that they were initiated by President Uhuru Kenyatta on learning of their plight.
He dismissed those claiming the reforms were his own hidden agenda meant to fight the KTDA as a falsehood meant to derail the process which had since kicked off.
“I have nothing sinister against the KTDA directors but after a thorough scrutiny and examination of its operations, it had become evident the Agency had become a monster whose occupation was nothing else than to exploit the farmers,” he told the meeting.
The CS urged MPs present at the meeting Munene Wambugu (Kirinyaga Central), Kabinga Wachira of Mwea and his Gichugu counterpart and host Gichimu Githinji to urgently back the reform process in Parliament to ensure the law became operational immediately.
“These reforms having been championed by the Head of State must be implemented without any further ado and I can assure the farmers they will start reaping the benefits of their sweat following this presidential order,” Munya said amid ululations and cheers from the jovial farmers.
At the same time, Munya has assured the farmers their tea will only be sold at the Mombasa auction and not through cartels which deliberately imposed barriers to ensure the commodity was not sold in full at once.
“The reforms also seek to have the proceeds from the Mombasa auction remitted to the respective factories within 14 days after such an auction, while the farmers must be paid 50 per cent of such proceeds within a month,” Munya said.
The farmers are also seeking to have a 600 acre farm at Kangaita the KTDA had taken possession of reverted to them since it was taken over without their consent.
They told the minister that the Agency had even built its own factory to process Sencha tea at the farm and claimed the facility would be used as conduit to steal their green tea.
The Sh300 million factory is due for commissioning early next year and is next to their Kangaita one while the farmers told Munya the KTDA had become the Principal with them as its subjects.
They further told Munya how an AGM attended by some few selected farmers transacted its business within 22 minutes at Kangaita tea factory with the rest of the members being relegated to mere rubber stamps.
By Irungu Mwangi