KENYA – Ekaterra Tea Company has suspended its operations in two Rift Valley counties in Kenya due to insecurity following the heightened invasion and destruction of property by residents.

The multinational tea firm, which owns vast tea estates in Bomet and Kericho counties, took deliberate action to put the safety of its employees at the forefront.

“The safety of their people is of paramount importance to them. So, they have suspended their operations until the law enforcement agencies can confirm that it is safe to resume their activities,” a statement issued by Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) chair Silas Njibwakale read.

KTGA, an umbrella union of large-scale tea producers in the country, said that large-scale tea producers in Kericho and Bomet counties are deeply alarmed by the increasing insecurity plaguing Kericho, Bomet, Nyamira, and Nandi Counties.

Demonstrations have been going on in Kericho against the introduction of mechanized tea-picking machines by large-scale tea companies.

The machines, according to the residents, have reduced the number of workers in the tea estates, a move that has not been taken lightly by the local community and leadership. The demonstrations have led to the burning of some of the machines.

Njibwakale noted that the escalation of insecurity in the farms has led to organized assaults on business premises and the deliberate destruction of crucial assets.

“The value of compromised assets as a result of these security challenges is estimated at approximately Sh50 million and an additional Sh120 million in 4.5 million kilos of green leaf,” he said.

“What began as daytime raids and thefts of tea leaves and machinery in October 2022 has now escalated into organized assaults on business premises and the deliberate destruction of crucial assets. These criminal activities and the breakdown of law and order have severely disrupted business operations, hampering the growth of the tea industry.”

The association further states that engagements with county security teams, the Interior Ministry, local chiefs, and elders have not borne any fruit and the situation has worsened.

He gave an example of a recent violent confrontation between armed groups and security personnel that caused severe injuries, including the “regrettable” incident of a police vehicle being set on fire. The irate mob had invaded the tea farms to illegally pluck tea.

While the tea industry plays a vital role in the country’s economy, KTGA avowed that criminal activities not only endanger lives but also hinder business operations, impeding the tea industry’s ability to thrive.

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