Push for reforms in the tea sector dominated President William Ruto’s first tour of Kericho County.
Residents pleaded for the mechanization of tea cultivation to be phased out as it had led to unemployment.
President Ruto, who spoke at Kericho Green Stadium during an interfaith church service yesterday, acknowledged that tea machines were a major challenge, especially for young people.
The president, his deputy Rigathi Gachagua and other leaders in the region said tea-picking machines and the lack of value addition were the sector’s biggest headaches.
“Young people complain about these machines because there are no other jobs. In Kericho and nationally, we need to re-examine the tea and coffee sectors to create more jobs for them,” Ruto said.
Ruto said his government would ensure more investment flowed into the county, citing value addition and agribusiness among its plans to save the economy.
“We will not sell unprocessed tea from Kenya. We want to create a common facility for users to add value to our tea, which will create more jobs and earn more for us,” the chairman said.
The president has weighed in on calls for the cessation of land owned by two multinationals to create room for the expansion of the town of Kericho.
This was in response to appeals from Senator Aaron Cheruiyot and Governor Eric Mutai demanding that Ekaterra and James Finlay surrender at least 1,000 acres.
Ruto said the Ministry of Lands and the Kericho County government will put in place mechanisms for the acquisition.
“It’s an issue I’ve addressed before, but it was dealt with by people who didn’t understand it. Kericho needs space for expansion and the creation of public institutions,” Ruto said.
Gachagua said the tea-picking machine problem had caused so much suffering.
“During our economic forums, it was clear that Kericho County’s problems begin and end with tea machines. We will have a forum to find a solution. We will not be leaders of the complaint but those who propose solutions for the president to make informed decisions,” Gachagua said.
Dr Mutai challenged multinational tea companies for deploying tea harvesting machines, saying they had put thousands out of work and slowed the economy.
The tea companies employed at least 60,000 workers, but their number was reduced to around 10,000 workers when mechanization was adopted.
“In terms of land rates, they lease an acre for 264 sh. In fact, Kericho County Hospital earns more from the sick and the dead than from these tea plantations,” he said.
“What good are multinational tea companies for the people of Kericho if they don’t benefit in terms of land prices or employment opportunities?” Mutai asked.
Mutai revealed that his administration will form a task force to negotiate with tea companies on mechanization.
“It’s not a question of whether the companies are going to retire the machines, the question is when they are going to do it. We will not compromise on this. They have to retire the machines,” he said. .
His Nandi counterpart, Stephen Sang, has asked the Attorney General to review the laws governing mechanization.
“If there is legislation that allows multinational tea companies to employ technology that puts thousands of people out of work, it must be addressed,” he said.
Sang revealed that governors of tea-growing counties will hold a roundtable to discuss the legal challenges counties face in their quest to ban the machines.