Several years ago, former President Moi became the first to cut down a huge chunk of Mau Forest, one of the most important water towers in East Africa – to plant tea.
Now he has taken hostage all the 16,000 farmers he brought to sanitise his land-grab – by underpaying them for their produce and they can’t walk away.
While Moi got more than 6,000 acres of the forest land, others like State House Comptroller Franklin Bett, Cabinet Minister Kipkalya Kones, and former Special Branch boss Noah arap Too got more than 100 acres.
On Moi’s portion, he built what is today known as Kiptagich Tea Estate where he has planted 3000 hectares which supplies tea to his Kiptagich Tea Factory constructed in the middle of Mau Forest.
The acquisition of this forest land has all along been controversial since it led to the destruction of an important water tower – threatening the entire Eco-system.
It is now known that the 16,000 farmers were given land here to shield the senior government officials from public outcry. Today, they produce tea and sell to Moi’s factory under his own terms.
The problem is that these farmers are poorly paid for their produce and have now become hostage to his factory.
In January, the farmers protested that the Sh6.80 per kilo payment was very low compared to farmers in Mununga Tea Factory in Kirinyaga who gets sh60! the average bonus is usually Sh40 per kilo
A Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) factory located some two kilometres from Kiptagich paid its members Sh34 for every kilo that they supplied during the same period.
While Moi’s factory charges its members Sh3600 for every bag of fertilizer, the nearby factory charges them Sh1,900 for similar quantity, according to a local farmer, Edna Bii.
During a meeting called in Kuresoi, where the farm is located, the farmers complained of poor pay, lack of payment slips, nepotism, and ethnicity. The locals accused the factory of not paying them bonuses for 2016 and 2017.
“We will burn the lorries that ferry tea leaves to Mombasa since our children have not reported back to school,” one John Koech said.
The factory is accused of underpaying locals and apportioning better rewards for employees who hail from Baringo.
The local member of the County Assembly Rose Mutai recently warned that the factory risks losing the licence to operate in the county.
“We will hold protests to push for the factory’s closure and decamp to KTDA,” one of the farmers said.
Moi has always said that he did not grab the forest land but was given by the Maasai. “The land under which the much talked about Kiptagich Tea Estate is located was part of the trust land under Narok County Council and I was allocated by the Maasai community to plant tea to stop people from encroaching the forest,” he said wondering why the local media always portrayed him as a land grabber.
“I did not destroy trees to pave way for tea growing. It was originally bamboo forest,” he said when the government threatened to seize the land.
“I was instrumental in the creation of Nyayo Tea zones across the country to protect forests from encroachers. I wonder why the Government is not appreciating the role I played in environmental conservation.”
Five years ago, Moi lost a section the multi-million Kiptagich Tea Estate to the Kenya Forest Service which obtained a title to part of the land which had been allocated to Moi in early 1978 by the Narok County Council.
How Moi resolves the row with poor farmers remains to be seen.