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    By George Munene

    Tea fieldsFor an industry that seemed to be working nearly 24 hours a day, especially during the rainy season, the tea industry in Tharaka Nithi county is bearing the toll of the Covid-19 p[revention measures surprisingly well.

    For while others involved in agriculture, such as fishermen and food transporters, have been granted exemptions to operate outside curfew hours, the tea sector is having to operate within strict 5am to 7pm timeframes. This has required a complete overhaul of the usual operating patterns by everyone in the value chain.

    Pre-Covid, tea farmers would take their day's delivery to collection points at any time of the day, with the blaring horn of factory lorries marking deliveries that arrived even in the dead of the night.

    For farmers who missed out on having their tea weighed and loaded, all they could do is wait in the hope that by the next round of pick-ups, particularly during the peak harvest – their buds had not rotted.

    Now, however, pickers get less time working on the bushes, as they have to be done by around 4pm to 5 pm. This gives farm owners time to weigh their day's pickings and pay them pickers  - as the mode of payment that's preferred by both tea farmers and pickers, versus older methods that paid by the size of area picked, time spent, or as a fixed day's wage.

    RELATED CONTENT:Serving composite tea to crops increases foliage harvest

    The tea is then delivered to the local pick up points, either by 10am to 12pm to be picked up that afternoon for short-run deliveries, or by 6:30 pm to be picked up by the factory early the next morning for longer-distance deliveries.

    Being further away from the tea factory, which means making evening deliveries, disadvantages farms further, as their picking hours are further reduced in order to get tea weighed, loaded, delivered and back home by the 7pm curfew.

    The tea is then locked in for the night, until the 5 am pick-up the following day, when it's weighed and loaded onto the lorry.

    With the heavy rains, this is a period of increased harvests, meaning some farmers are even forced to lay their leaves under shelter outside, but there have been very few cases of theft, with police officers usually patrolling to enforce the curfew orders.

    Farmers in Tharaka Nithi have also been benefitted from a new private entrant into the tea space, the Njeru Tea Factory. The arrival of a local, private buyer has ensured there are no cases of tea going bad, which can normally happen when the collected tea volumes are high, and might have been worse still given that collection times are now shorter.

    To help the industry in keeping going, counties, such as Muranga, have given 120,000 free masks to be delivered to tea farmers through ten factories within the region.

    Tea factories such as Weru in Tharaka Nithi county have taken Covid-19 preventative measures by offering their farmers free masks and putting up washing points at tea delivery points across the county. Farmers are also urged to stick to the 1.5 meter rule while weighing and loading their tea.

    The company has also used its reach with the most rural of rural populations and carried out sensitisation efforts.

    However, with no Covid 19 infections within the Meru region (the nearest reported case being at neighbouring Isiolo), laxity is now seeping back in, with people no longer adhering to the rules as strictly as before.

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    By Fredrique Achieng

    More than 14 test centres are now available for truck drivers and other workers crossing Kenya’s borders to get mandatory ‘attestation’ letters to show they have tested negative for COVID-19 48 hours before travelling.

    "Public transport is a very important player in terms of both transmission and also in the facilitation of economic development. With truck drivers moving from the coast to areas in the west, like Malaba, and into the other parts of the EA region, they are most at risk of contracting and transmission of this virus and we have to try our best to contain its spread," said Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia at a press briefing announcing the new testing regime.

    “Through a regional agreement, all truck drivers leaving their country of origin, for instance Kenya, and who are going to either just the border point or into another country, such as Uganda, will have to be tested 48 hour before leaving the country either from Mombasa, Nairobi or Naivasha,” he said.

    The truck drivers must go to a testing centre to have a test taken 48 hours before departure. The test costs Sh6,000, which has raised some controversy, with the Kenya Transporters Association saying the charge is too high considering that the government is carrying out similar test for the general public at no cost.

    However, once tested, the truckers’ results will be available after 24 hours. For those who test negative, their names and results are forwarded to the Emergency Operations Center of the Ministry of Health (MOH) which, in turn, forwards the names to the Port Health Officer at the Directorate of Public Health as cleared for border transit.

    trucksOnce a driver’s name has been submitted, a letter of attestation that they have tested negative for COVID-19 is prepared, which drivers must collect from the testing facility where they were tested.

    "For any driver who needs to carry their good they will have to produce the certificate before they are let in to either the Mombasa port, Nairobi and Naivasha ICD," said CS Macharia.

    Drivers crossing the border are also required to fill out a self-quarantine declaration and to register online at the border points. Moreever, trucks will only be allowed to stop at designated stop-overs during the entire journey.

    The letters of attestation will be valid for 14 days, after which individuals will have to get new tests and results in order to travel again.

    The public testing facilities providing the transporter tests and letters in Kenya are:

    Nairobi

    • NIC Lab
    • KEMRI CVR
    • KEMRI CDC
    • KEMRI HIV
    • National HIV Reference Lab
    • Kenyatta National Hospital

    Kericho

    • KEMRI Walter Reed

    Kisumu

    • KEMRI CDC
    • KEMRI Walter Reed
    • KEMRI CDC HIVR

    Busia       

    • KEMRI Alupe Lab

    Uasin Gishu

    • AMPATH Care Lab

    Kilifi

    • KEMRI Kilfi

    Mombasa

    • Coast General Provincial Hospital

    Alternatively drivers can get tested in private hospital facilities at a cost of between Sh8,500 and Sh13,000.

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