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Protests Suspend Kenya Tea Company Operations

FILE - A woman picks tea leaves in Chepsonoi, Nandi county, in western Kenya on Aug. 13, 2022.

NAIROBI — A multinational tea company based in Kenya has suspended operations after tea plucking and harvesting machines were burned by protesters citing massive job losses because of mechanization.

The suspension of operations at the Ekaterra tea company's South Rift region farms will affect thousands of employees.

The Kenya Tea Growers Association announced Tuesday that all large-scale tea producers in Kenya will scale down operations in solidarity with Ekaterra until security is guaranteed.

Casual laborers previously employed to pick tea protested on Monday against the loss of jobs due to the use of machines. They told local media that, additionally, the automation of the picking process is causing more work for employees in the sorting department because machines do not pick the finest tea leaves.

They burned five machines and looted tea products from one of the company's shops.

The tea growers association has appealed to President William Ruto to intervene as there have been various other attacks in other tea farms in the South Rift region as locals protest against the use of machines.

The association says assets worth 50 million Kenyan shillings ($362,000) have been destroyed over an unspecified period of time. Losses of tea were additionally put at 120 million shillings by the association.

Ekaterra has lost 15 machines to torching incidents in the past seven months.

Kenya is one of the leading tea exporters in the world. The tea production industry has faced challenges and tea exports declined in 2022.

The industry employs millions of people in farms and factories spread across the country.