By Kimuri Mwangi
The Tea Bill was finally passed unanimously by the Senate this afternoon after it was passed by the National Assembly with amendments recently. The Bill was so popular that the rivalry between the Senate and the National Assembly was forgotten as most of the Bills emanating from the Senate are usually not passed by the National Assembly. The Senators were recalled from a recess showing the importance accorded to the Bill. 33 Senators who voted supported the Bill.
The Senators were in full praise of Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot for coming up with the bill. The Bill was passed with all the amendments by the National Assembly with a promise that the concerns raised by different stakeholders will be looked into later. ‘
Contributing to the debate, the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Njeru Ndwiga who is also the Embu Senator said that the various petitions received from various stakeholders will be dealt with later expeditiously after the passing of the Bill. He also said that the concerns by the Council of Governors should also be listened to as agriculture is devolved. On the re-introduction of the Tea Board which the Bill proposes, Ndwiga urged the Ministry of Agriculture to be careful when appointing members to the Board to ensure that only persons above reproach were appointed. He warned that failure to do that would see the Board suffer the same fate that befell the Coffee Board where players in the coffee industry were appointed to the Board and eventually killed the Coffee industry.
Vihiga Senator George Khaniri urged Senators from areas where tea is not grown to support the Bill as it would come to the aid of tea farmers who had started uprooting their tea bushes. The Senator also said that he had uprooted a section of his tea bushes when the returns went down. Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina told the House that most small-scale tea farmers usually planted tea only in their pieces of land leaving just a space for their house hence they don’t have a fall back plan when they don’t receive good returns from tea.
The poor condition of roads in tea growing zones was also a concern with Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo saying that in the past the roads used to be good. “I once travelled around Nyeri County and the roads in tea growing areas were so good. On enquiring I learned that the tea cess levied on tea was used in maintaining the roads. This should be the case even now,” he said. Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata who is the Majority Whip in the Senate accused the County governments of diverting the tea cess into other activities leaving the roads in tea growing areas to degenerate into a deplorable state.
Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen supported the total disbandment of the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) saying it had affected many sub-sectors negatively. He also said that concerns by the Kenya Tea development Agency (KTDA) and others should be listened to after the passing of the Bill adding that County governments’ role in tea farming should also be enhanced. Nyamira Senator Okon’go Omogeni said the proposal by the Bill to introduce a tea fund to stabilize the prices was welcome as it would ensure farmers get good returns.
Mombasa Senator Mohamed Faki opposed the Bill saying that the proposal that all tea should be sold at the auction will see the market flooded as the supply is big than the demand. He wanted the retention of private sales in addition to the auction.
The Bill gives farmers more control of their tea through the Tea Board and is a big blow to KTDA which had fought the Bill vehemently. The passing of the Bill means that KTDA automatically loses the monopoly of managing tea factories in the country among other consequences.
Among the proposals by the Bill are farmers getting paid within 14 days of their tea being bought and farmers getting at least 50% of the auction price..