Volunteer opportunity posted by: AHADI Volunteer
Posted on: December 23, 2012
TEA FARMERS IN KENYA AND THEIR CHALLENGES
Small-scale tea farming which amounts to 62% of the total production of tea in Kenya is quite important in alleviation of poverty and stimulation of economic growth and development. Sustainable poverty reduction can only be possible through economic growth and development strategies. The industrial development therefore is unlikely to be sustainable unless there is sufficient domestic demand, which essentially calls for raising incomes of the rural people. To achieve the economic growth with equity and therefore reduce poverty, there is a dire need to place priorities on the policies that enhance incomes of rural households through specific development strategies on tea marketing locally and abroad.
The main challenge facing small scale Kenyan tea farmers and which needs to be adresssed is the production related challenges which include:
a) Old tea gardens- In Kenya, most tea gardens are over 30 years old and past their most productive age. Some 1950s tea gardens are still intact. Replacements of these old gardens with new varieties could bring about considerable gains. Although, the Tea Research Foundation in Kenya has developed 45 tea varieties, farmers have not adopted them because tea as tree crop has a long gestation period (roughly 3-5 years). In addition, the cost of planting tea to maturity is huge, making it difficult for farmers to adopt new varieties. There is also a problem of information dissemination whereby many farmers may not be aware of new varieties of tea.
b) Low quality tea- Farmers in Kenya have specialized in production of bulk undifferentiated tea with focus on volume rather than quality. Interventions must address the means of raising quality in the value chain. This can be done by adopting improved varieties of tea. However the adoption is hindered by high costs of inputs and long gestation period of tea. Other measures of improving quality include applying right amount of fertilizer, application of manure and plucking methods.
c) Poor workers-employee relationship has also affected the tea sector. Although this may not be a big problem among the micro scale tea farmers since most labor is provided by family members, a number of small scale tea farmers (with more than 10 acres) do experience the challenge. This happens when these farmers cannot get laborers to pick their tea and therefore tea plants overgrow, leading to losses. In addition, tea pickers have been coalescing with the objective of agitating for higher payments. In some places the pickers have managed to force small scale farmers to pay Ksh. 8 ($ 0.1) per kilogram of green leaf plucked. It is also important to note that tea farmers are paid Ksh. 12 ($ 0.15) per kilogram of green leaf for monthly payments. This however excludes annual payments (roughly $ 0.5 per kilogram), commonly referred to as bonus. Tea pickers' agitations for better payments have led to tea pickers and farmers having poor working relationships. Traditionally, workers agitation for higher payments has been concentrated in plantations and current developments among small holders are surprising.
d) Lack of and high costs of labor- This is a challenge to small scale farmers with over 10 acres of land whereby they may lack workers to pick their tea. Non-availability of tea pluckers has pushed the tea plucking's average kilogram payment from Ksh. 5 ($ 0.06) in 2008 to Ksh 5.50 ($0.06) in 2009 to Ksh 6.00 ($ 0.07) to Ksh. 7.00 ($0.08) in 2010 and Ksh. 8 ($0.09) in 2012. It is important to note that at the time of writing this paper, farmers were paid Ksh, 12 ($ 0.15) per kilogram monthly by Kenya Tea Development Agency. This implies that the tea pluckers take more than half of what the farmer is paid per month. Other reasons contributing to labor shortage in tea growing areas are rural urban migration and young people negative perception towards employment in agricultural sector. To ensure sustainability in availability of labor the government needs to improve the general conditions in rural areas by providing social amenities, improving roads and communications infrastructure, and providing electricity among many others. It is also important to emphasize the importance of agriculture in economic development right from the time the child enters primary school. It is worrying to note that agriculture is not an examinable subject among primary schools in Kenya.
e) High costs of inputs and other operational costs- The cost of fertilizer, the major input, is very high making the cost of production enormous. In 2009, the average price of 50 kilogram bag of fertilizer was Ksh. 1836 (USD23) compared to Ksh. 1296 (USD 17) in 2007. The other operational costs are the costs of weeding, pruning and plucking.
f) Poor access to information- Small holder farmers have lacked information on better tea farming methods since the tea sector was liberalized in 1990s. During the days of government control of the sector, farmers used to get extension services (including information on better tea farming practices) from the Ministry of Agriculture. After liberalization, farmers are required to pay for these services, which most are unable to pay or they are ignorant about their usefulness. As noted earlier, Tea Research Foundation of Kenya has developed 45 varieties of tea but many farmers are yet to adopt them due lack of information about their availability. Information flow is poor and at times lacking, especially that relating to pricing. Further, farmers at the bottom of the pyramid are the most disadvantaged, as they receive little information and their feedback hardly reaches the top; and when it gets there it is misrepresented.
g) Lack of training- Small holder farmers lack general farm management practices. Small scale tea farmers have diverse experience in tea farming, ranging from one year to fifty years, affecting productivity. It is further noted that some tea farmers fails to use any fertilizer on their farms, while others used more than the recommended quantity of 150kg of nitrogen per hectare per year and used 494kg of nitrogen per hectare per year. Poor supervision of tea pluckers and other farm laborers contributes significantly to high operational costs.
h) Marginalization of women in sharing of tea income- One of the unique features of African agriculture is that women customarily specialize in the production of food crops (maize, bananas, beans) while men on commercial crops like tea and coffee. In addition, women do not own land. It also important to note that in the small holder tea sector in Kenya, majority of tea pluckers are women. However, the income from tea is taken by men who are the owners of land. With the global trend toward empowerment of women it is important that this marginalization of women in sharing of income from the tea sector be reversed. This will be one way of ensuring sustainability of the small holder tea sector in Kenya since women rights are now regarded as criteria for trade in some countries. Violations of women rights might lead to denied entry of Kenyan tea in some export markets.
i) Planting of Eucalyptus trees in water catchments areas- This is one of the major trends in areas where small holder tea farming is practiced in Kenya. Majority of farmers have started to grow Eucalyptus trees for firewood and commercial purposes. This trend has been encouraged by KTDA that uses these trees to provide wood fuel in tea processing. Environmentalists have been critical of planting of Eucalyptus trees in water catchments areas (where many of these trees have been planted) as they are said to be major consumers of water. According to environmentalists, where these trees have been planted rivers have dried up and this is the major reason they are using to discourage Eucalyptus planting. It is therefore important that farmers are educated and discouraged from planting these trees in water catchments areas. These will help to ensure the sustainability of the small holder tea sector in Kenya. This is because negative publicity globally will lead to Kenyan tea being denied entry in those markets where environmental standards are adhered to in trade.
j) Farmer representation- Small scale tea farmers are not well represented in KTDA, TBK and EATTA, or their representatives are compromised. The directors who are meant to represent farmers are largely ineffective or compromised and the elections are highly politicized. Relationship between farmers and their factories need to be strengthened, so as to increase ownership and their participation, this is important so that farmers can stop feeling disfranchised. Farmers associations need to be strengthened. Kenya Union of Small Scale Tea Owners (KUSSTO) which has mandate to operate in the whole country has not been effective due to interference and vested interests and its presence and activities has been restricted
k) Poor utility of their farms- The land fragmentation in Kericho, Kenya, has confined many farmers into investing in tea plantations. This therefore has led to overreliance on tea yet its benefits are such minimal that the farmers' needs are not entirely met.
EXPECTED DUTIES OF A VOLUNTEER
The volunteer will be expected entirely study what the small-scale farmers face and what are the causes of the challenges and roadblocks, and try to find possible avenues and solutions, besides, these are some other additional roles:
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