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MP wants farmers stripped of powers over tea

By IRENE MUGO
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A row is brewing in the tea industry over a bill that seeks to revert Kenya’s biggest tea agency back to the government after two decades in the hands of farmers.

The Kenya Tea and Development Agency (KTDA) Bill by Gem MP Elisha Odhiambo proposes that the government takes over KTDA and scraps some levies as well as offering cheap fertiliser to farmers. KTDA is owned by 560,000 farmers.

But already, his bill, has run to headwinds from Parliament, KTDA, politicians and a section of farmers.

KTDA wrote to the National Assembly clerk Jeremiah Ndombi demanding a copy of the legislation on July 13.

“We have searched the record of the National Assembly and have not found a bill published through the government printer,” read a letter addressed to Parliament by KTDA company secretary John Omanga.

In response on July 25, Mr Ndombi said the bill has not been published.

“We wish to advise that all publishable bills for consideration in the National Assembly are available on Parliament website,” said Mr Ndombi in a letter.

But the MP accused KTDA of trying to pull the rug under his feet and thus sabotage the legislation.

“I am tabling the bill this week. It is ready and they know it,” said the legislator.

A copy of the bill seen by the Nation proposes radical changes in the sector which has elicited mixed reactions from stakeholders.

It replaces the agency with an authority that is controlled by the government through a board.

DISMISSED BILL

The law proposes that board members are appointed by the Cabinet Secretary and the chair by the President.

Currently, the KTDA national board is picked by directors of factories, who are in turn elected by farmers depending on the number of shares.

KTDA national chairman Peter Kanyago dismissed the bill as retrogressive and vowed that KTDA would oppose it.

“Trying to make KTDA a parastatal will be disastrous to farmers. It means moving backwards while there is notable progress since the privatisation of the industry,” noted Mr Kanyago.

SOLVE PROBLEMS

Eighteen years ago, Kenya Tea Development Authority was privatised in a deal that was sold as a solution to help solve farmers’ problems. The move transferred assets and mandate to farmers through their tea factories and the organisation’s name changed to Kenya Tea Development Agency.

The agency has been credited with stabilising the tea sector and rolling out a model that is used by other countries.