Tea farmers welcome suspension of factory directors elections
Oct. 29, 2020
• The farmers said they have been fighting for a fair system that gives them an equal voting stake. • Counsel Nguyo Wachira, who represented the AG, said allowing the elections to continue would render the Crops (Tea Industry) Regulations, 2020, irrelevant.
Opinion leaders in the tea sector in the Central region during a meeting in Kenol town, Murang'a. Image: Alice Waithera
Tea farmers from Mt Kenya region have hailed the decision by the High Court to suspend countrywide elections of factory directors. The farmers, who met in Murang’a on Wednesday, said they have been fighting for a change of the election process from the current system, which allows farmers with more shares to have a bigger stake. They want a "one farmer one vote" system. The High Court in Mombasa on Monday suspended the elections pending the hearing and determination of an application by Attorney General Kihara Kariuki. The AG petitioned against another application by the East African Tea Trade Association. Justice Njoki Mwangi ordered the application by the AG heard on November 10. Counsel Nguyo Wachira, who represented the AG, said allowing the elections to continue would render the Crops (Tea Industry) Regulations, 2020, irrelevant. The regulations bill is in Parliament and outlines changes to the electoral system used in the tea sector. If passed, farmers will have equal voting stakes. The AG’s application will be heard before Justice Mwangi. It has, however, been contested by KTDA through its company secretary John Omanga, who said a similar application had been filed and dismissed in the High Court in Nairobi. Patrick Ngunjiri, a farmer from Gitugi tea factory, Nyeri, said the court’s decision has been celebrated by tea farmers all over the country. "For the first time, farmers who are the most important party in the tea industry have felt reprieved that their cries have been listened to,” he said. Ngunjiri urged the National Assembly to take its cue from the court and hasten the adoption of the bill for reforms to be enacted in the "chaotic sector". "We want the bill signed into law to emancipate us from economic slavery and poverty,” said the farmer, who is also a lawyer. Muthoni Waithanji from Gitugi factory said farmers will not lose hope and will instead continue fighting for reforms that will see them earn more from the cash crop — one of the highest foreign exchange-earners. Waithanji said farmers have been participating in flawed elections of directors in which they have no choice because of unfairness. Samuel Njunu from Njunu tea factory in Murang’a county took a swipe at Senate’s Agriculture committee chairperson Njeru Ndwiga for opposing the regulations, which have been baptised Munya Regulations. He said Ndwiga’s recent remarks during the Council of Governors' summit in Mombasa indicated that he did not have farmers’ interests at heart. Njunu accused Kenya Tea Development Agency of using farmers’ money to compromise both governors and senators against the regulations. “The bill is a policy matter that should be handled by the National Assembly and has very little to do with the Senate,” he said. James Mukuna from Ngeere tea factory in Murang’a said farmers want the 50 per cent payment of their monthly dues as proposed in the regulations. “We are happy that the bill is rooting for the issues farmers have been fighting for for decades and want them passed and enacted,” he said, adding that once adopted, it will give them economic freedom. John Njiru Kathangu from Rukuriri factory in Embu said he was shocked by Ndwiga’s remarks. He questioned the senator's change of heart, saying he had supported the regulations when Munya visited Embu in September. “We know they have been compromised by KTDA to fight the new laws but we will not stop fighting and lobbying for them (regulations),” he said.