Use of machines shaves tea farms’ plucking costs


Farmers harvest tea using a tea plucking machine in Kericho County. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NMG

Tea farms have saved up to Sh10 a kilo in the plucking of the produce following the adoption of picking machines.

The farms have been spending up to Sh15 a kilo in payment on labourers for every kilo of tea that they pluck, making it the single largest component of production cost.

Tea Board of Kenya (TBK) Technical Officer James Marete said the estates are now spending an average of Sh5 in plucking cost since the introduction of machines.

“Machines have contributed a lot in lowering the cost of production with plucking a kilo going for as low as Sh5,” said Mr Marete.

Many estates, especially the multinationals and individual farmers are embracing the use of machines after the high court last year threw out a decade-old case between the unions and multinational companies that challenged the use of the plucking gadgets.

Apollo Kiarii, chief executive officer of the Kenya Tea Growers Association- an umbrella body that represents multinational firms, says the introduction of the machines has immensely cut on cost of labour and increased earnings for producers.

“The largest component when it comes to cost of production in tea is plucking of the produce. The machines will save on time by cutting on labour leaving farmers with a lot of money in their pockets,” said Mr Kiarii.

Mr Kiarii said the machines are able to pluck 400 kilogrammes of tea in a day when compared to 45 kilos that laboureres can.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya in March directed Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) to start the implementation of the tea plucking machines in every zone starting March.

Mr Munya said the move was aimed at cutting on time that humans take in picking the green leaf and safeguarding farmers' health.

The use of tea plucking machines has been a controversial issue in tea industry with the unions fighting its introduction by the multinational firms on the ground that it will render people jobless.

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.

KTDA through its subsidiary-Tea Machinery Engineering Company (Temec) makes the tea plucking equipment among other engineering works.

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