A war of words has erupted between Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture Peter Munya and Bomet Governor Hillary Barchok over the sale of tea to Iran.
A few hours after Mr Munya termed as “fake” the contractual agreement with buyers in Iran which saw Bomet ship 84 tons of tea three weeks ago, Dr Barchok fired back saying the CS was talking out of ignorance.
Dr Barchok told a press conference in his office on Wednesday evening that Mr Munya had failed farmers and was keen on bringing the tea sector to its knees by coming up with policies that were not practical and in the long run will mess up the industry.
Dr Barchok refuted claims by Mr Munya that the tea from Bomet was not shipped as claimed and that the deal was not sanctioned by the national government due to trade barriers the country was facing.
However, he confirmed that the tea that he flagged off with the Iranian Ambassador to Kenya Jafar Barmaki was from a private tea factory that he did not name.
“It was impossible to export tea from Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) managed factories because of the leadership wrangles with new directors having taken over while the previous ones have moved to court to challenge the move,” said Dr Barchok confirming Mr Munya’s position that the Agency was not involved in the deal despite being a major industry player.
On Wednesday, Mr Munya tore into the export deal saying there was no evidence to show that the produce has left the country for the destined market.
“The engagement between Bomet and Iran on tea export was fake. The purposed made tea has not left the country. It has not reached Mombasa for shipping. Who are the exporters if KTDA was not involved?” Wondered Mr Munya while answering questions from journalists in Nairobi.
Pressure has been piling up on the county government to release the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding for the sale, who the exporters are, the buying price and modes of payments as Iran is barred from trading with most countries due to the embargo in place.
“To demonstrate that the tea was indeed sold, I will be travelling to Iran with farmers’ representatives and county officials to receive the produce as it docks on July 28,” said Dr Barchok.
He confirmed that indeed the national government had not sanctioned the engagement this the decision to engage the buyers directly.
“We presented a memorandum of understanding to the ministry of foreign Affairs that has sat on it for the last eight months with no feedback. The document is gathering dust at the department yet farmers are looking for better markets for their produce,” said Dr Barchok.
The constitution does not vest powers on devolved government units to go into bilateral engagement directly with a foreign country without the clearance of the national government.
Devolution ministry, that of Foreign Affairs, the state departments of Industrialization and Trade, and that of Agriculture are usually involved before the deal is inked by the parties when the government is fronting the engagement.
“I agree with Mr Munya only when he called on players in the sector to embrace value addition and go into orthodox tea processing to secure unique foreign markets that fetch high prices,” said Dr Barchok.
The governor claimed that the recent capping of prices of tea at the Mombasa tea auction at more than Sh200 per kilogram was not practical.
“The government should simply amend the Tea Act, 2020 and give a right to tea factories and exporters to bypass the Mombasa tea auction when they gave a better deal for their produce in the export market That is what CS Munya should be looking at instead of speaking from a position of ignorance in the deal we clinched,” said Dr Brachok.
He said the export of tea from the country was a clear demonstration that it was possible for Kenya to venture into new frontiers in marketing their farm produce to the benefit of farmers.