NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 7 – Members of Parliament on Wednesday morning implored the government to bail out tea and coffee farmers by offsetting the huge outstanding loans owed to several local banks, in order to increase revenue generation.
Through a Motion filed by Ikolomani MP Boni Khalwale the legislators urged the government to take up the loans in order to boost local tea and coffee production which would in turn spur foreign exchange earnings.
Agriculture Assistant Minister Kareke Mbiuki however opposed the Motion saying that the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) was frustrating government efforts to settle the debts, amounting to billions of shillings, which are pulling farmers down.
Mbiuki said it would be impossible to pay back the loans as they had been privately acquired by KTDA and factory owners on behalf of farmers.
“We have been getting some frustrations from KTDA because they have not been willing to work with government. The debts are privately sourced by KTDA through the factories and most of the factories are privately owned so it’s a bit difficult for government to come in,” he explained.
Khalwale however discounted the explanation saying it did not hold any water because the consequences of not waiving the debts were more adverse.
He said that offsetting the loans would help fight poverty among the farmers and ensure the country’s tea and coffee products continued outshining those produced from other countries.
“There is a saying in Kiluhya that when a snake enters the house you don’t run out of the house to look for a stick to kill the snake. You use your own walking stick even if it breaks. There is a snake in this house and it is called poverty,” he quipped.
Mbiuki also revealed that Barclays Bank of Kenya was owed Sh176 million while Equity Bank, Kenya Commercial Bank, Ecobank, Stanbic Bank, NIC Bank and Cooperative Bank were owed Sh163 million, Sh115 million, Sh115 million, Sh12 million, Sh722,000 million and Sh420,000 respectively.
“All the 66 tea factories have borrowed a total of Sh5.5 billion from the various financial institutions where Sh4.2 billion is the main loan sourced for the construction of the new satellite factories as well as rehabilitation of the old factories,” he explained.
He also revealed that the Cabinet had already approved more than Sh2 billion to waive debts in the coffee sector and would ensure that the farmers got the money to offset the loans.
During the debate several MPs including Runyenjes MP Cecil Mbarire, Julius Kones (Konoin), Benjamin Langat (Ainamoi), Millie Odhiambo (nominated) among others challenged the government to give tea and coffee farmers more incentives.
Trade Assistant Minister Manson Nyamweya and his roads counterpart Lee Kinyanjui also supported the Motion.
Kones asked the government to facilitate transport of tea and coffee produce from farmers and also ensure that they were not being fleeced while accessing fertilisers.
“We have heard of instances where unscrupulous officials from KTDA and even the factories themselves falsify data on fertiliser acquired by farmers and then they are forced to pay for something they didn’t acquire,” he said.
Odhiambo urged the government to aggressively market the country’s tea and coffee even if it meant using unconventional methods like Facebook and Twitter.
Khalwale also said that it would good if the government used its diplomats to market the country’s tea and coffee.
“The world is a global village so you need to know what your competitive niche is and we must put resources and energy in supporting our tea industry,” she said.
Meanwhile Planning Assistant Minister Peter Kenneth says the government has been unable to repeat the census in eight districts of Northern Kenya due to a pending court case as well as the ongoing offensive in Somalia.
Kenneth explained that the government had planned to conduct the repeat census in August this year but had been forced to shelve the plans.
“The process requires great logistical planning and the Treasury allocated Sh150 million for preparations but the court order stops it and the security issues are also not conducive for a repeat,” he explained.
Efforts by North Horr MP Chachu Ganya to have it discussed were futile after Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim called it off due to the pending court case.
Ganya argued that it was necessarily to have the process repeated so as to facilitate the delineation of the new boundaries.
Wajir West MP Adan Keynan had earlier called for its deferment saying its debate would be sub-judice.