A tractor is used to pull a tea lorry in Kiambu (courtesy of Wahome Thuku)

Why do we have such roads in tea growing areas?This is the biggest insult we can have to farmers who earn this country millions of dollars in foreign currency.

There was a time when there was a dream of turning roads in tea growing areas into a model rural infrastructure. That dream is now gone.

In all tea growing areas  of Kericho, Muranga, Kiambu, Kisii, Nyamira, Meru, Nyeri and elsewhere, the story is the same. Tea is going to waste as lorries get stuck in the mud.

In 1965, the International Development Association, an affiliate of the World Bank, approved a credit of $3 million to Kenya to build roads in the tea growing areas of Kenya.

The roads were built and then neglected and this is what we have today.

The money was enough then to design and construct and reconstruct about 1448 km of tea collection roads and 152 kms of factory access roads in smallholder tea development areas of Kenya, together with the establishment and equipping of 15 small service units for day-to-day maintenance of the project roads.

This was to support the growth of Kenya Tea Development Authority, as it was known then, which was spearheading the expansion of smallholder farms in Kenya.  The aim was to help improve the farm-to-market transport of other commodities such as milk, vegetables, fruit, wattle bark and pyrethrum.

The roads were to be tarmacked where drainage was poor and grades are steep according to World Bank documents. But the factory access roads where the traffic was to be heavy were tarmacked.

Some 15 maintenance units were to be established in the tea growing areas and local authorities were to undertake periodic maintenance in their own areas. The government was to also ensure that they had sufficient funds to maintain these roads.

Kenya was to repay the loan from August 1, 1975 for 50 years. It was to pay 1 per cent of  the principal by 1985 and 3 per cent for the next 30 years. While the credit was free of interest, a service charge of three-quarter of 1 per cent per annum was to be charged.

While farmers were charged Cess, which was intended to assist local authorities to provide necessary services to promote the production of tea and other crops, the roads were simply neglected and the money misappropriated.  This is because for years, this cess was under a District Commissioner and its usage was never questioned.

It is time that Kenyans start a debate on these roads in tea growing areas.


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