Let sobriety guide divisive tea reforms
Tuesday, October 13th, 2020
If there is a sector that needs to be put in order urgently, it is the tea growing business.
Hit by dwindling fortunes amid a mishmash of regulations over the years, tea growing seems to be gaining a bad reputation as one of the most thankless farming endeavours.
With the sector’s current performance and general apathy among farmers and investors, it is fair to say tough times lie ahead for a crop.
However, this situation can be remedied. This important sector must be rejuvenated with speed through surgical precision so that tea growing can regain its pride as a source of livelihood for many and a key foreign exchange earner for the country.
It goes without saying that tea farmers get the short end of the stick despite outstanding success stories associated with the sector over the years.
Pictures of tea bushes being replaced with horticultural crops and other uses is perhaps an apt illustration of how low the sector has sunk.
But the problems facing the sector did not come as a surprise. For many years farmers have been expressing discontent about their declining earnings.
Indeed some counties have been raising alarm over asymmetric returns, cries which have not been given due attention by the people in charge.
And whereas quality issues may have been the main cause of price differentials, those in charge did not engage with growers to improve the crop and ensure better returns.
The question of value addition has also not been properly ventilated, thereby leaving the farmer at the mercy of age-old forces of supply and demand.
Coming at a time the country is seeking direction through the Crop (Tea Industry) Regulations 2020, we call for further soul searching going by the diverse opinions collected from farmers and leaders across the country.
Even if it takes longer to get a holistic solution, so be it, but sobriety must be maintained, and despite reforms being necessary for the sector, they must be accompanied by proper explanations to ward off unnecessary attempts to re-engineer change that may bring the sector to its knees.
While at it, the elephant in the room - cartels – must be pushed out to ensure farmers get their worth from their sweat.
Only a holistic approach to the reforms will ensure farmers are not held to ransom with some proposals that can expose them to exploitation through price fixing.