Tea company suspends operations in Kericho as demonstrations escalate

Ekaterra Tea Company (ETK Plc) has suspended its operations in Kericho and Bomet Counties citing insecurity. The company says it is extremely concerned about the recent developments surrounding its tea operations in the two Counties as the safety of their people is of paramount importance to them. It will halt all operations until the law enforcement agencies can confirm that it is safe to resume.

Demonstrations have been going on in Kericho against the introduction of mechanized tea picking machines by large-scale tea companies. The machines have reduced the number of workers in the tea estates something that has not gone well with the local community and leadership. The demonstrations has seen the burning of some of the machines

The Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) which represents large-scale tea producers has said that large-scale tea producers in Kericho and Bomet counties are deeply alarmed by the increasing insecurity plaguing Kericho, Bomet, Nyamira and Nandi Counties.

 “The safety and well-being of all employees and the operation of tea estates have been significantly impacted by this rising insecurity. Over recent months, there has been a notable escalation in insecurity within tea estates. What began as daytime raids and thefts of tea leaves and machinery in October 2022 has now escalated into organized assaults on business premises and the deliberate destruction of crucial assets. These criminal activities and the breakdown of law and order have severely disrupted business operations, hampering the growth of the tea industry. Instances of violent confrontations between armed groups and security personnel have been witnessed, leading to severe injuries and the regrettable incident of a police vehicle being set on fire. These criminal activities not only endanger lives but also hinder business operations, impeding the tea industry’s ability to thrive,” says the association in a statement.

It adds that the value of compromised assets as a result of these security challenges is estimated at approximately Kshs. 50 million and an additional Kshs. 120 million in 4.5 million kilos of green leaf.  The need to deploy additional security personnel to ensure the safety of employees and business premises it says has further escalated operational costs incurred by tea producers.

The association further states that engagements with County security teams, the Interior Ministry, local chiefs, and elders have not borne any fruit and the situation has worsened. It is imperative that swift action be taken to hold accountable those inciting these acts and restore peace and security to the tea estates in Kericho and Bomet Counties.

They have therefore decided that large-scale tea producers will reduce operations until adequate security measures are guaranteed. Also, engagements with the Technical Working Committee on the recommendations of the Kericho County Task Force on large-scale tea producers and other stakeholders in the tea sub-sector are suspended until the security concerns are adequately resolved.

“The issue of unemployment is a national concern, necessitating constructive dialogue to identify the requirements for creating an enabling environment that fosters local economic growth, sustainable job creation, and overall development. Large-scale tea producers are committed to the long-term prosperity of the tea industry and the communities it supports. However, the prevailing security crisis demands immediate attention and comprehensive solutions. We appeal to the Presidency and all relevant authorities to urgently intervene and take the required action to restore peace and stability in Kericho and Bomet Counties,” opines the association.

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