In Summary
  • The cost of hiring pickers has turned out to be the biggest impediment to tea farming in the region.

  • The picker is paid Sh12 per kilo of leaf plucked, while KTDA has been paying farmers Sh16 for the same quantity.

  • The Sh4 the grower is left with after meeting labour costs mainly goes to meet the cost of fertiliser and paying labour for pruning the bushes.

In the rural villages of Mt Kenya region the amount of money paid to tea pickers per kilo equals the amount of money paid by KTDA to farmers.

In essence, tea farmers with no family labour hardly get any money at the end of the month since it all goes to pay tea pickers.

Farmers are forced to wait for the second payment, which KTDA calls bonus, but when the payments drop like they did this year, the growers are left at a loss.

LABOUR SCARCITY

How farmers are supposed to make money out of this crop is a puzzle.

Pundits blame it on scarcity of labour force in rural areas, thanks to urban migration after the collapse of the tea economy.

Unable to get any regular monthly income from tea, most farmers have now turned to dairy farming and other promising crops such as macadamia.

At best the farmers continue to be hopeful and at worst they have started uprooting the cash crop to free their land for other economic activities.

When they are not being blackmailed by tea pickers, they are milked dry by KTDA; a marketing agent that has adopted a management style which farmers say is exploitative and manipulative.

“Here in Kirinyaga, the tea pickers have formed a trade union of a kind,” observes Francis Gakuya, 74, of Mutira area. Mr Gakuya told the Nation that whenever KTDA increases prices of tea for farmers, they also raise their labour cost.

Mr Gakuya had initially vowed to uproot his 1,500 tea bushes but on second-thought he decided to hand them over to his wife hoping that prices will one day improve.

GLOBAL PRICES

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