Farmers in some parts of Nyeri on Monday made good their threat to boycott tea plucking in protests against low bonus payments.
Those affiliated to Gitugi, Gathuthi, Iriaini, Chinga and Ragati factories did not deliver their produce. Last week, the farmers said failure by the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) to do away with the court cases that it filed to block the implementation of the tea regulations would spark protests from all tea growing areas.
The farmers said they have been burdened by debts all their lives and have given up on KTDA.
Bonuses have been increased by Sh5 billion — from Sh46.4 billion paid out in the last financial year to Sh51.8 billion.
According to the agency, the increase is founded on the revenues realised by all the 54-KTDA affiliated factories on account of increased tea volumes and better exchange rates, and not a result of any payment from the agency.
Uprooting tea bushes
In Meru County, some farmers yesterday started uprooting tea bushes to protest the poor earnings from the crop.
Each month, the agency pays farmers Sh16 a kilo, from which tea pickers get Sh10, leaving the farmer with Sh6, which is used to pay for tax and fertilisers.
The bonuses are paid in October, but the declaration of this year’s payment has been marred by protests, with farmers demanding more money.
Some farmers have also started planting horticultural crops on their farms saying the ventures are more profitable than tea.
Mr Gideon Mutwiri, a farmer who delivers his leaves to Imenti Tea Factory in Imenti South, said last season he cleared an eighth of an acre and planted ginger, which earned him Sh300,000. “Tea is no longer profitable and that’s why we are uprooting the bushes. I harvested one tonne of ginger and sold each kilo at Sh300. This season I am planting pepper and vegetables.”
He said KTDA’s announcement that it would not import fertiliser this year on behalf of farmers was likely to worsen the situation. But it is the experience of his neighbour, Mr Samuel Murithi, that paints a grim picture of farmers saddled in debt. When the bonuses are announced, farmers walk into their sacco societies and fill loan forms so that when the money is released, they top up the loans.
Mr Murithi said he took a loan of Sh200,000 four years ago, which accrued to over Sh300,000 as he topped up each year.
“That time we got a bonus of Sh45 per kilo and I took the loan anticipating that the pay would be better the following year, but it went down. I topped up for two years, but last year the bonuses could not pay all the debt “.
“The loan accumulated and since last year, my bonus was not enough to repay. My guarantors’ accounts were frozen. I had to sell a piece of land and pay the debt to enable them to access their money,” he said.
This year with the bonus set to be paid at Sh28 a kilo, he expects to receive Sh28,000 from his 1,000 kilos.