KENYA- Del Monte Kenya Limited, a leading fruit juice processor in Kenya, is seeking government protection from further loss of farmland which it fears could affect its viability and lead to a possible shutdown of operations.
According to Stergios Gkaliamoutsas, Delmonte’s outgoing managing director, the company has been embroiled in a tussle with the counties of Kiambu, Murang’a as well as the Kandara Residents Association following the expiry of its company’s land lease.
All the parties have been seeking allocation of part of the 23,000-acre land held by the company. This has forced the fruit processor to cede some 1400 acres and 700 acres to Murang’a and Kiambu counties.
Stergios was speaking during the signing of collective bargaining agreements between Del Monte Ltd, Kenya Union of Commercial Food and Allied Workers, and Kenya Plantation and Allied Workers Union at the company on Monday.
The company urged the government to expedite the renewal of the company’s land lease to guarantee the future posterity of the business.
Del Monte also noted that a new lease would help win back some clients in Europe who had stopped buying its products due to the negative publicity associated with the land controversy.
Boniface Kavuvi, Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) board member expressed concern that thousands of workers who are either directly or indirectly employed by Del Monte will be rendered jobless if this tussle remains unresolved adding to the unemployment crisis in the country.
Del Monte has directly employed 6,500 workers and indirectly creates a source of income for an additional 28,000 people. These people stand to lose their livelihoods should the company go under.
“We are pleading with the government to intervene and safeguard Del Monte’s land which is under threat of being hived off for other purposes. The firm will be forced to lay off thousands of workers,” Kavuvi said.
Although the firm earns the country billions of shillings in foreign exchange which is vital for the country’s economic growth and stability. The government was urged to provide the firm with a conducive operating environment
“We have seen investors moving their enterprises and investments to other countries. We must not scare away investors for the sake of social-economic growth in the country,” Thomas Kipkemboi, the Deputy Secretary General of KPAWU (Kenya Plantation and Allied Workers Union) added.
He also warned that the country stood to lose heavily should Del Monte go under if the government fails to protect it.
“Del Monte has contributed immensely to the growth of towns in Kiambu and Murang’a including Thika, Kabati and Kenol. Shutting down this firm will also lead to the collapse of these towns,” Robert Muthanga of FKE (Federation of Kenya Employers) added.