Tea farmers in Kangema in tussle with factory over poor pay

Written By: Wambui Mwangi\Ronald Owili

PHOTO. | File

More than 400 farmers from Kangema Constituency want to delink from Githambo tea factory and join another factory that offers better services.

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The farmers from Gikigie, Ndu-ini, and Kiangenye tea buying centres have accused Githambo factory of failing to give them a clearance letter that will allow them to join another factory.

The farmers said they gave a one-month notice to the factory on September 18 indicating their intention to move to Gacharage Tea Factory that is situated in the neighboring Kigumo sub-county.

But the factory, they said, have refused to respond, prompting them to stop picking their crop for three weeks now.

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The bushes have overgrown and while a few farmers have started picking their tea, the majority have remained adamant they will not pick their tea until their bid to move from the factory succeeds.

The farmers have said they have been condemned to live a miserable life as even the roads leading to the village that borders the Aberdare Forest are almost unusable.

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The roads are rocky and are characterized by potholes, and some sections have underground water freely running across.

John Ngunjiri from Gikigie tea buying centre said while Githambo factory is about 18km away from the village, Gacharage factory is only six kilometers away.

The close proximity of Gacharage factory makes it more favorable to the farmers as it is easily accessible.

Ngunjiri further noted that the extremely cold weather in the area makes it unfavorable for food crops that do not do well and that farmers are forced to rely on tea for survival.

A check-in the farms confirmed this fact as farms were characterized by a serene green from the tea bushes and forests.

When it rains, he said, the tea farming practice becomes nightmarish as trucks from the tea factory get stuck causing them to spend nights in tea buying centres.

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Paul Kibe, an elderly farmer said he would rather abandon farming altogether than continue selling his tea to Githambo Tea Factory.

Kibe has nothing to show for his decades cultivating the crop and that he brought up his children in utter poverty.

“The only way I could afford school fees was through loans that I took from KTDA. They withhold my money and then loan it to me through their affiliate companies,” he said.

Kibe complained that the factory strictly requires them to pick only two leaves and a bud to improve the quality but pays considerably lower than other factories.

The factory paid Kshs. 21 per kilogram in this year’s annual bonus payment compared to Gacharage factory which paid Kshs. 30 per kilogram.

“Gacharage factory often pays at least Kshs. 10 more than what we receive in annual bonuses,” the irate farmer said.

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Should the factory not give them the clearance letter, Kibe said he will uproot his tea bushes and plant avocado trees which he said have the potential to earn much more.

Margaret Wambui on the other hand noted that many women have fallen sick in the farms as they toil in a bid to support their families.

“My home is a bit further from the buying centre and during rainy seasons, am forced to spend nights in homes neighboring the centre when the factory buys our tea at night but the rewards I get out of it cannot support my family,” she said.

She said they have had enough of the poor services offered by Githambo factory and want to be allowed to seek better services elsewhere.

The farmers vowed to continue boycotting farming until the factory heeds to their notice.

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