Some tea farmers in Mount Kenya region are leading a revolution in the sector that the Kenya Tea and Development Agency (KTDA) controls.
The farmers, mostly from Nyeri and Murang’a, have created parallel cultivation, marketing and export channels that if successful, may change the face of the sub-sector.
The farmers are up in arms against the KTDA that controls more than 560,000 growers from at least 65 tea factories.
Last year, the agency paid farmers Sh78.3 billion which was a seven per cent drop from the Sh84 billion they earned in 2016.
Poor payment is at the centre of the breakaways that have threatened the multi-billion shilling tea industry.
Individual farmers too are opting for speciality teas and applying for cottage licences from the Agriculture and Food Authority in order to process, package and market their own produce for better returns.
The number of groups seeking to break away from the agency is increasing by the day as they recruit farmers to join them.
In Murang’a, 300 farmers who used to deliver their tea at KTDA’s Mutunguru buying centre broke away in 2014 after the agency cancelled their contracts for refusing to sign a leaf supply agreement.
They are now constructing Sh300 million Kiriti tea factory to compete with the agency.
“They refused to collect our tea for months forcing us to look for an alternative market for our produce. We got a private firm in Kiambu,” said Kiriti Tea Factory chairman Charles Kihara.
In the meantime, the farmers deliver their produce to Ngogoro Factory in Kiambu, which pays them Sh25 per kilogramme monthly. The tea agency pays Sh14 a month per kilo and two bonus payments per year.