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Green leaf hawking blamed for Sh50bn loss of farmers' revenue

The Tea Board of Kenya has raised the alarm over rising green leaf hawking in 16 tea-growing regions.

              A tea farm

Chairman Jacob Kamau said the breach of rules has become so rampant and accounts for Sh50 billion lost revenue to smallholder farmers.

He warned if unchecked, the malpractice which pegs more focus on volume, will negatively impact quality causing tea to prices at the auction to slump.

The board warned factories and farmers of legal consequences, including revocation of licenses for factories and a Sh100,000 fine for a farmer found breaking the law.

“One of the things that hawking has created is that the quality of our tea has dropped. Kenya tea sells because of the quality, yet hawking is keen on encouraging the focus to be kilos and what you realise with the farmer is the quality has come down,” Kamau said.

“There are factories which have lost between three and five million kilos but in total, when you look at the loss particularly for the small-scale farmers, we are talking about Sh 53.5 billion in value being lost by the farmers,” he added.

Green leaf hawking is illegal according to Section 6(4) of the Tea Act of 2020.

Farmers are only allowed to sell tea to a factory where they are registered. Similarly, a tea factory can only buy green leaf from its registered tea growers.

Under the regulations, if a farmer sells tea to another factory where they are not registered the penalty is Sh100,000 or six months in prison. And if a factory buys tea from a farmer who is not registered under the factory, the fine is Sh5 million or three years in jail and the vehicle which has been transporting the tea can be forfeited to the state.

“We are trying to enlighten the farmers and those factories that are taking this tea so that they understand that what is happening is an offence,” the chairman said.

“The government is giving farmer subsidies for fertilisers and so it will be unfair for the farmer to receive fertiliser from the government and the factory and then deliver their produce to somebody else. And these are some of the areas we are talking to the farmers about so that we can get a way forward,” Kamau said.

A survey conducted by the Kenya Tea Development Agency across its seven seven regions showed that a total of 200 million kilograms of green leaf were hawked in 2021.

Last year, hawking escalated where 60.3 million kilograms of green leaf were hawked leading to the loss of Sh 15.36 billion in earnings for the farmers.

Further, the survey showed the malpractice had gained popularity in four counties that make up regions 5 and 6.

The findings revealed that Region 5, which covers Kericho and Bomet counties, had the highest percentage of hawked green leaf at 42 per cent, while Region 6 which covers Kisii and Nyamira counties hawked 36 per cent of their green leaf.

Third in tea hawking was Region 7 (Vihiga, Kakamega and Nandi) with an estimated hawking of 15.1 per cent.

“Region 1 (Kiambu county) had an estimated 5.8 per cent of hawked green leaf. Region 2 covering Murang’a and Nyeri counties as well as Region 3 (Embu and Kirinyaga) 0.05 per cent of hawked green leaf,” say findings from the KTDA survey.

On the issue of independent tea factories aiding and abetting tea hawking, Kamau stated that TBK was in the process of reviewing factory licenses to ensure that both private and KTDA managed factories were processing tea according to the license capacity.

He noted that as a way of streamlining the sub-sector, factories wishing to process tea had until the end of this year to submit data detailing their processing capacity as well as the list of registered farmers who deliver green leaf.

“We have gone to some factories where we found they are processing 15 million kilograms while their capacity is five million and those are the ones we are saying are going beyond their capacity. But we have given them up to December 31, to tidy up and by January 1 we expect a clean slate,” the chairman stated.

The TBK chairman spoke in Nyeri during a farmers’ engagement forum that brought together more than 300 farmers from the Eastern and Central regions, representatives from the office of the Deputy President, the Central region security team, KTDA and private tea manufacturers to discuss the ills that continue to bedevil the tea sub-sector.