Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua on Thursday undertook to oversee full implementation of proposals by tea farmers to strengthen the sector as the government rolls out comprehensive reforms to turn it around.
The DP also promised immediate implementation of the Tea Act, 2020 to ensure reforms spelt out in the law are back on track after being frustrated by the previous government.
Speaking when he opened the two-day national Tea Reforms Conference at Kericho Golf Club in Kericho town, the Deputy President said the meeting was geared towards streamlining the sector in order to improve farmers’ earnings.
“I give an undertaking that the reforms we are going to agree on, our two Houses of Parliament where we have the majority members will pass the needed amendments into law and thereafter we will ensure a 100% compliance with the law. This is part of our Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda,” said the DP.
Mr Gachagua urged the participants who included farmers, leaders and other stakeholders to freely make contributions adding that the conference had been specifically organized to listen to them as the reforms are implemented.
“I want to invite you to be honest and brutally truthful. Be free to tell us where the challenges are. This is the last conversation we are going to have about tea. We cannot keep saying these things every year. It is the time to tell us the oppressors, who are frustrating you and we will act on them,” urged the DP.
The DP praised Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot for sponsoring the Tea Act but said the law that was to revive the sector had been frustrated by those who served in the government previously.
“The Act is comprehensive and can help our farmers earn better. Even as we make the amendments, we will enforce the Act because if it had been implemented as effected we would have already dealt with the challenges halfway and we would now be dealing with the remaining part right,” said Mr Gachagua.
Through Executive Order 1 of 2023, the Deputy President has been tasked by President William Ruto with turning around the fortunes of farmers in the Coffee, Tea and Dairy subsectors. The Tea Conference is being held after the Coffee Summit in Meru last month. The Summits are meant to bring respective stakeholders together to agree on the best intervening measures to make the sectors profitable to the farmers.
The DP said the tea farmers must be the happiest in the production chain because they are the heart of it.
“The tea plantations are beautiful. It is a sight to behold. Besides, beauty is misery for the farmer. We are here to consult and speak the truth. We must get a solution because we must find a way for the farmer to get the highest pay,” the DP said.
In spite of Kenya producing distinct flavours of tea, Mr Gachagua said marketing of the products do not take care of farmers’ interests.
“The farmer has no power to determine the price yet this is a much-sought commodity across the globe even when sold raw. The farmer who puts in the most effort earns the least. The pyramid is inverted against the farmer. The farmer is struggling economically,” he said.
Present were Cabinet Secretaries Mithika Linturi (Agriculture) Kipchumba Murkomen (Roads and Transport), Governors Dr Eric Mutai (Kericho), Dr Hillary Barchok (Bomet), Cecily Mbarire (Embu), Stephen Sang (Nandi), Wisley Rotich (Elgeyo-Marakwet), Senators Cheruiyot, Wakili Sigei (Bomet), Kathuri Murungi (Meru), Karungo wa Thangwa (Kiambu,) Tabitha Keroche (Nakuru), Kamau Murango (Kirinyaga) and MPs.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi said it was time to put a smile on the faces of farmers.
“Kenya produces one of the best tea globally, but cannot attract good prices for our farmers. We must come up with ideas to take advantage of our tea to maximise earnings. We will support the farmer to access subsidized fertilizer to lower the cost of production,” said Mr Linturi.
Cheruiyot welcomed the Summit saying it will help consolidate the proposed reforms to make the sector better.
“This is a perfect opportunity to solidify solutions to the industry. We are here in Kericho to listen to the farmer because the Kenya Kwanza Administration approach is Bottom-Up,” he said.
Kericho Governor Eric Mutai urged the DP to press on with the reforms saying they will support him in the counties.
Farmers welcomed the reforms saying once implemented farmers will get better pay and improve their lives.
“We need to relook into the guaranteed minimum returns and ensure local factories adhere to it. Farmers are suffering in tea farms. We look forward to the implementation of the Tea Act as promised by the Deputy President. This will help our farmers earn more,” said Charles Chirchir, tea farmer from Bomet.
They said improved earnings will help them meet their needs without struggle.
“We have been in tea farming for over 40 years. But returns have been very low. We are struggling to educate our children. We are confident that with the entry of the Deputy President into the reforms, we will earn more. All cartels must be eliminated for the farmer to get their rightful share,” said Mr Kinoti Kirigia, a farmer.