Lands agency slashes foreign tea firms’ leases from 999 years to 99

The National Land Commission (NLC) has ordered that all 999-year-old land leases to multinational tea companies in Kericho, Bomet and Nandi counties be converted to the constitutional requirement of 99 years.

NLC announced the decision in a Gazette notice No. 4512 dated April 6. The decision has brought joy to members of the Talai clan and the Kipsigis community who have been fighting for years over historical land injustices.

“The Commission orders that all 999-year-old leases should be converted to the constitutional requirement of 99 years,” read the gazette notice in part.

The Commission gave the orders following an investigative hearing of historical land injustices complaints taken to NLC in 2017 by the county government of Kericho on behalf of the Talai clans and the Borowo and Kipsigis self-help groups versus the colonial government and the government of Kenya.

The Commission recommended that a resurvey be done on the lands being held by the tea estates in three counties to determine if there is any surplus land or residue to be held in trust for the community by the county government for public purposes.

It further added that the renewal of the land leases be withheld until the county governments and the multinationals reach an agreement.

“The Commission further recommends that the renewal of the leases to these lands be held in abeyance until an agreement is reached with the respective county governments” read the Gazette Notice.

With regard to rates and rent on such lands, the Commission recommended that the same should be enhanced to benefit national and county governments. The county governments and the multinationals, according to the Commission, should sign a Memorandum of Understanding for the multinationals to provide public utilities to the community.

NLC also recommended that a scholarship fund to educate Talai children be set up by multinational companies holding land in Nandi.

Various sources indicate that Ekattera, James Finlays, George Williamson, Mau Tea, and Sotik Tea Highlands occupy an estimated 800,000 acres of land which straddle Kericho and Bomet counties.

In a Gazette Notice dated October 2022, Kericho Governor Erick Mutai formed a task force to look into various issues and conduct an extensive review of multinationals and other tea sub-sector stakeholders in Kericho, Nandi and Bomet counties.

Among the recommendations made by the task force in a report released last month was the use of machines and tea workers in the farms.

It recommended a ratio of 60:40 machine harvesting to hand plucking. It also recommended that land rates of Sh5,000 to Sh10,000 per acre be charged and reviewed as and when the time comes.

The report revealed that large-scale tea producers and other tea sub-sectors continue to pay the land rates at Sh1,600 as negotiated with the defunct County Council of Kipsigis and the Municipal Council of Kericho.

Simeon Hutchinson, the Managing Director of James Finlay, said the firm paid Sh1,400 per acre annually for land leases. “The claim that we do not pay market rates as the land lease is a pure lie. As per our records, we pay Sh1,400 per acre annually,” said Mr Hutchinson in his response.

While reacting to the NLC directive, Governor Mutai termed it as a win for Kericho residents.

“This is a great achievement for us. Going into the future, the county government will have a stake in the renewal of land leases, a departure from the past when the multinational tea firms would collude with a few Ministry of Land officers to renew the leases at night,” he said.

Governor Mutai said the county government of Kericho, for instance, will now have the latitude to have a say on which company to lease the land to, set the rates and other terms of negotiation.

On the land resurvey issue, Mutai argued that the tea companies were tenants on land owned by the local community and they have no option but to allow the process to go on.

The governor reiterated that residents are no longer interested in marvelling at the beauty of the rolling tea plantations, but also yearn for it to be converted into an item of economic glory.

“We, therefore, look forward to a productive engagement with the multinational tea companies,” he said.

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