Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya has directed Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) to start the implementation of the tea plucking machines in every zone starting this month in what is likely to put the unions and the government on a collision path.
Mr Munya said this is aimed at improving the quality of tea, reducing harvesting time and safeguarding farmers' health.
The use of tea plucking machines has been a controversial issue in the industry with unions fighting its introduction by the multinational firms saying it will render people jobless.
The new directive is set to give the multinationals a fertile ground in defending the use of machines on their farms.
“Mechanical tea harvesting is critical as it will help in reducing the cost of labour, increase earnings for farmers and protect their health,” said Mr Munya.
Mr Munya directed KTDA to ensure that the machines are sourced competitively from other markets as well, cutting the monopoly of the agency from selling its locally made equipment.
“We have machines from other places that are cheaper when compared with what you are selling, it doesn’t necessarily have to come from what you are making,” the CS said.
KTDA through its subsidiary-Tea Machinery Engineering Company (Temec) makes the tea plucking equipment among other engineering works.
KTDA chief executive officer Wilson Muthaura said the board, through its subsidiary, has been selling small plucking machines to farmers as part of enhancing efficiency and labour cost reduction.
“A single machine costs Sh25,000 and is supplied to the farmer on request. We are currently training farmers on how to use the equipment,” said Mr Muthaura.
The multinationals have welcomed the move by the CS saying it’s a step in the right direction in the tea sector.
Apollo Kiarii, chief executive officer of the Kenya Tea Growers Association- an umbrella body that represents multinational firms, said the introduction of the machines will increase earnings for farmers.