Mt. Elgon Sub-County is emerging as a new frontier for tea farmers who are increasingly adopting the cash crop.
The region is known for its high food production especially of maize and is even dubbed the grain basket or granary of Western Kenya.
In an exclusive interview with KNA at Kapsokwony Mt. Elgon Agricultural Officer Mr Sammy Chemining’wa said more farmers are embracing tea farming and attributed the scenario to aggressive sensitization efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with Kapsara Tea Factory where the harvested tea leaves are taken.
He added after suffering for too long despite the area being very productive courtesy of merciless middlemen farmers have embraced the new crop anticipating better returns.
Chemining’wa said a majority of the tea farmers were those who initially grew pyrethrum in the past before they abandoned the crop for lack of market.
Tea farming in Mt. Elgon was initially concentrated around Kaberwa area near Kapsokwony, after a Nyayo Tea Zone area was established in the 1990’s to protect the forests, but has since spread to Kaboywo and Kongit areas in Kaptama Division.
“Mt. Elgon region is well endowed with rich tropical volcanic soils, and it enjoys well distributed rainfall throughout the year, the ideal climate for tea,” said Chemining’wa.
The area Crop Development Officer, Mark Otieno, said the campaign launched by the Ministry to encourage farmers in the region to plant tea should not be misconstrued as asking them to abandon maize growing in totality. “We are just asking them to increase the acreage of tea and reduce the acreage they plant maize, after all tea has a higher income unit per acre,” said Otieno.
Otieno said one of the reasons for their campaigns for tea growing is that KTDA planned to establish a tea factory in the area once the required crops acreage is achieved. Currently harvested tea leaves are transported all the way to Kapsara Tea Factory in Cherangany Constituency.
Simon Kirui, the Chairman of Mt. Elgon Tea Growers Cooperative who was among the first farmers to embrace the crop, reckons that there is income in tea. “I am just a farmer, but I also get a pay slip like someone who works for the government. Besides bonuses comes at a time when I need money most, especially in January when school fees is needed,” he said.
His sentiments were echoed by another tea farmer, Japheth Kesis who said unlike in the past he no longer sells his maize at a throw away price to middlemen to cater for his financial needs as the money he gets from tea is enough.
By Douglas Mudambo