Although tea is a major source of revenue for the tea picking workers from the Nandi tribal community, they face an increasingly uncertain future following the arrival of mechanized tea picking. Mechanization has been introduced in the region by several multi-national companies, which, according to the workers unions resulted in more than 2,000 workers being downsized in Kericho, Nandi and Sotik areas.
The unions have complained that the machines are not only the cause of unemployment, but also present a health hazard to those who use them for a prolonged period of time. Some workers charge that they have developed respiratory problems because of carbon dioxide emissions during the operation of the new tea picking equipment.
The multi-national companies point out that the move to introduce the machines merely helps them be in sync with the times and stave off competition from other tea producing countries that have already switched to machine-assisted cultivation due to its effectiveness and cost.
However, the move led to demands for pay increases to cope with the rising cost of living for more than 200,000 tea workers in the country, who are demanding an increase from their minimum monthly wage of Sh8,013 (US$83) to Sh10,000 (US$103)