Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT: Women Produce Most of the Tea Grown in Kenya

Joyce Mulama

LIMURU, Kenya, Oct 16 2002 (IPS) - Women produce most of the tea grown in Kenya, yet their contribution to the industry, which is the country’s leading foreign currency earner, has always been ‘’downplayed”, laments an expert.

‘’Women significantly contribute to the 35 billion shillings (around 450 million U.S. dollars) that Kenya earns in revenue from tea every year,” says Enoch K’oudo, a Nairobi-based agricultural economist.

While most smallholdings are owned by men, it is a common practice in Kenya that more of these farms are run by their wives, who play such crucial roles as mobilising farm workers, participating in tea picking, weeding and tending farms.

Around 60 percent of tea farm workers in Kenya are women. Like their male colleagues, they are members of the Kenya Planters and Agricultural Workers Union.

Membership is optional though. Union sources say that around 30,000 members out of a total of about 50,000 are women.

Nevertheless, a significant number of female workers, who by the uncertain nature of their terms of employment, are not registered members of the union. They belong to the category of those who get a chance for temporary employment only during peak seasons.

With the exception of team leaders and supervisors, tea pickers are generally employed as casuals; the numbers of which vary with tea output season.

Their wages are worked out on the basis of the weight of green leaf they have picked after a period of time, the rate of which varies from one employer to another.

Concerns have been raised over insufficient remuneration for tea-farm workers.

On average, they get six shillings (0.08 U.S. cents) per kilogramme of green leaf, while salaries of permanently engaged team leaders and supervisors range within 3000 shillings and 5000 (between 39 and 64 U.S. dollars)per month, depending on experience and employer.

Although the union has made tremendous efforts to bargain for better working conditions and better pay for their members, there is a general feeling that a lot still needs to be done to improve workers’ terms of service.

Two years ago, small-scale tea workers demonstrated against poor terms imposed by marketing agencies. Farmers were being underpaid by the agencies, which in turn translated into poor pay for farm workers, who at some point went on a go-slow demanding a raise.

This impacted negatively on the sector, leading to a significant drop in output. The resilient industry however, bounced back quickly when the situation calmed down following a restructuring of the government-controlled Kenya Tea Development Authority into a more efficient Kenya Tea Development Agency Limited, which now serves as their major marketing outlet.

Tea pickers are still faced with a number of work-related challenges. While occupational hazards encountered are similar for both men and women tea pickers, the impact is more pronounced among women.

Wambui Muchiri, a 42 year-old mother of four, who has picked tea for the last ten years, has to bear with frequent injuries on her fingers. She is in constant fear of catching pneumonia due to cold weather associated with tea growing areas.

– Tea picking is not an easy job. I frequently bruise my fingers, which as you can see, are now deformed and full of corns. I have had to treat cold-related illnesses more often than usual. Nevertheless, I have to continue working as I am the sole bread winner for my family," she says in Kiswahili, Kenya’s official language.

Her colleague, Appellace Adhiambo, adds: ôI dread the spiders and rodents that run around these tea bushes, but I enjoy my work because I know I am contributing a lot to this industry."

Appellace complains of aching shoulders and bruises around the area of her collarbone. ôThese baskets, when they become heavy with green leaf, really hurt our shoulders," she says. ôThe irony, though, is that the heavier the basket, the better the pay at the end of the day."

Established companies have over the years researched on ways of reducing the hazards faced by tea pickers. Many have developed protective clothing and gloves for their workers, reducing the potential harm the workers are exposed to.

Brooke Bond Tea Kenya Limited, for example, provides farm workers with protective clothing and offers medical care. The company, the largest private tea estate in East Africa, also provides housing to workers.

A few years ago, the company developed specially designed sacs for use during tea picking, diverting from the traditional hard baskets that were wrapped around the shoulders. The baskets were uncomfortable and caused pain on the shoulders of tea pickers, apart from tearing tender leaves of tea.

Awareness levels have risen and workers, through their union, are on a constant bargaining path with their employers for better terms.

K’oudo says that because farm workers play such an important role in the realisation of quality tea output that the country is renowned for, their terms need ‘’quite some review to reflect their role”. He is not convinced that they are adequately compensated.

Tea is the central pillar of Kenya’s economy. It has remained the country ‘s leading foreign exchange earner, ahead of tourism, coffee and horticulture for years.

Kenya earns some 35 billion shillings (450 million U.S. dollars) in tea export per year, accounting for 28 percent of total foreign exchange earnings, according to official statistics. Kenya is the largest exporter of black tea in Africa and third largest in the world after India and Sri Lanka.

The industry, which provides direct jobs for about 600,000 people, affects the livelihood of over three million Kenyans.

Tea land has expanded rapidly since independence: from 21,448 hectares in 1963 to 120,000 hectares in 2002. This is 0.2 percent of the total land in Kenya, a significant proportion for one crop.

Production is shared between large-scale tea estates and smallholdings, with the latter producing more than 60 percent of the total production.

Much of the country’s tea is grown around Kenya highlands, west of the Great Rift Valley. In particular, Kericho and Nandi districts in Rift Valley Province, Limuru town near Nairobi, Muranga in Central Province and parts of Western Province stand out as leading tea growing areas – with Kericho being referred to as Kenya’s ôtea capital".

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT: Women Produce Most of the Tea Grown in Kenya

Joyce Mulama

LIMURU, Kenya, Oct 16 2002 (IPS) - Women produce most of the tea grown in Kenya, yet their contribution to the industry, which is the country’s leading foreign currency earner, has always been ‘’downplayed”, laments an expert.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

wordpress-the.menudeai.comcheaterboss.comgrammarly discounts for students