Tea plucking machines have become a hot potato in tea growing counties in Kenya. The multinational companies that own these machines consider them as economical gadgets that reduce on operations costs.
According to Simeon Hutchinson, the Managing Director of James Finlay tea, mechanization of agriculture shouldn’t be opposed as it is something that has been adopted globally.
“Mechanisation started in 1984 with introduction of tractors on a trial basis while hand-held machines were introduced in 2003, which led to gradual phasing out of hand plucking of green leaves. Right now, virtually all operations in the tea estates are fully mechanised,” he said as captured by Nation.africa.
But workers’ unions have opposed the use of tea plucking machines which has rendered thousands jobless. The unions also allege that the tea picked by machines is of poor quality as opposed to hand picked. According to various sources, a hand-held tea plucking machine operated by two people has the capacity of rendering about 20 people jobless. But the real “beast” is the driven tea picking machine whose output is equivalent to the work done by approximately 100 – 200 workers.
With the matter being something of interest in the political landscape, former cabinet secretary Charles Keter is said to have lost on his bid to become Kericho governor over allegations that he owned some of the machines. Keter, who lost to Erick Mutai in the UDA primaries has however denied the allegations.
Early this month, approximately 10 tea plucking machines were burnt down in Kericho by locals who took umbrage over the continued deployment. The apparatus were set ablaze in Tagabi Estate in Belgut Constituency.
The multinationals that own the harvesters are: James Finlay, George Williamson, CVC Capital Partners and Eastern Produce Kenya.
The company has 10000 hectares of land under tea and has an estimated output of over 28 million kilograms of tea. It also owns a research and development facility and blends, packages and exports tea.
CVC Capital Partners (previously Unilever).
The company acquired Unilever tea in a deal that was sealed in June, 2022. According to Unilever, the deal was around ksh 500 billion. CVC Capital now has 36000 acres of tea under a long term leasehold and takes control of Ekaterra company which produces 34 tea brands. The harvesters that were set ablaze belonged to this company.
The firm has an over 150 years existence and controls tea estates in Nandi, Kericho, Kaimosi, Kapchorwa, Tinderet and Changoi.
Eastern Produce Kenya
Eastern Produce Kenya is a subsidiary of East Africa Produce which has spread its tentacles into Malawi, Kenya and South Africa.
In Kenya, it has its base in Nandi Hills. It owns 5 factories besides controlling 2 others that are privately owned. Its estates are: Kibabet, Kapsumbeiwa, Kipkoimet, Kepchomo, Chemomi, Savani and Sitoi. It also manages other estates on behalf of local stakeholders.