Tea is one of the major foreign exchange earners in Kenya. Introduced in 1903 during the colonial days, the cash crop supports many households in the country. Commercial tea farming in Kenya started in 1926. Through its earnings, many smallholder farmers have been able to educate their families and uplift their standards of living.
Pressure from the Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – culminated in the liberalization of the tea industry in Kenya come 2000. The objective was to free the industry from the control of the government in a liberal economic set-up. With this development, Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA), a parastatal overseeing small holder tea farming became Kenya Tea Development Agency. Possibly, that is where the rain started beating the industry.
Directors of the agency would be elected on the basis of their shareholding and not via the one-man – one-vote formula which is more democratic. Those with a few shares would therefore never get elected irrespective of their popularity and commitment to improve their respective tea factories. Cartels out to profiteer from tea farming thrived under the new draconian system at the expense of the subjugated tea farmers.
Aware that the famers were facing a myriad of challenges, the Kenyan government kick started a legislative process to reform the tea industry in June 2019. Consequently, both the National Assembly and the Senate have passed the Tea Bill. It has also been signed into law by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Based on this historic development, the Tea Board of Kenya and the Tea Research Foundation are set to be revived. In addition, proceeds from the sale of tea at the auction shall be paid within fourteen days, with factories paying fifty per cent directly to the farmers. A host of other new regulations will also be embraced in the industry to the benefit of farmers.
Over the years, small holder tea farmers have tended their bushes with utmost care and dedication hoping to realize good earnings. Many have broken their backs and fallen sick owing to the harsh weather conditions they are often exposed to. Nevertheless, they have soldiered on. More than anything else, the Tea Bill should be an eye opener to a few selfish elites holding the false notion that farmers are a bunch of naïve slaves who should be exploited by all means, as such elites pursue their insatiable quest for wealth with reckless abandon. The tea tables have now been turned. Hopefully, for good.
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