KENYA – Ekaterra Tea Kenya has received orders from Kenya’s Court of Appeal allowing the firm continue operations on a contested parcel of land in Kericho County. 

Ekaterra Tea Kenya is part of global tea company Ekaterra Global Operations B.V. which Unilever created in 2021 and later sold to CVC Capital Partners Fund VIII for €4.5 billion on a cash-free, debt-free basis. 

The company moved to the court after the Environment and Land Court in Kericho ruled in favour of Mokal Investment Ltd, which is also claiming the property. 

While arguing its case, Ekaterra told the court that it had only temporarily surrendered the Grant in respect of the property for purposes of subdivisions after which the Grant was returned to it. 

 It further told the court that the title deed held by Mokal is invalid as it has been occupying the land since 1957 and had extensively developed it by planting tea bushes and trees. 

 Mokal opposed the application stating that the intended appeal is not arguable because the suit property was not in existence and that it was the one occupying the land. 

In its findings, the court ruled that the tea grower had tabled evidence to show that it occupies the property, part of which has tea bushes, and another with residential houses for its workers. 

“We are satisfied that unless the orders sought are granted, the 1st respondent (Mokal Investment) is likely to invade the suit property and subdivide it, and/or interfere with the applicant’s operations thereon, including the destruction of tea bushes, mature trees and structures thereon, which will render the appeal nugatory, in the event that it is successful,” the judges added. 

Tea Estate land disputes escalate 

Land disputes between multinational tea farms which reportedly control between 89,000 and 200,000 acres and locals have intensified in the past resulting in relentless court cases. 

Earlier, another tea company Eastern Produce Kenya (EPK) Ltd moved to the Court of Appeal to stop invasion of its tea estate by members of a cooperative society in Nandi. 

Through their lawyer, senior counsel Fred Ojiambo, EPK argued that members of the Kimasas Farmers’ Co-operative Society might take steps and ensure the decision of the National Land Commission (NLC) is implemented to its detriment. 

The NLC ruled in 2019 that EPK gifted the members the land but the company challenged the decision, arguing that it was not given a fair hearing. 

In April, the NLC ordered the renewal of leases for the lands be withheld and that a resurvey be done on the tea farms, handing the counties of Bomet, Kericho and Nandi more powers over the lands. 

James Finlays, George Williamson, Mau Tea, Sotik Tea Highlands, Ekattera (formerly Unilever), and Sasini are those to be affected. 

 NLC has also ordered that the leases be aligned to the 2010 Constitution and adjusted to 99 years from its current 999 years.