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Letters

LETTERS: Protect sugar farmers from rogue cartels

sugar factory
Tractors deliver cane at a sugar factory in western Kenya. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Interesting that amidst the revelations on how uncontrolled importation and consumption of sugar, which for many years, contributed to the socio – economic development of the Lake Basin region, there are pronouncements to the effect plans are afoot to revive the sector.

Similar initiatives have been made before including government bailout for State run sugar companies, without any success and once more, if the attempt is to make any headway, much more strategic thinking is required more than mere politicking.

Without critically reading and understanding the contents of the report by the Eleventh Parliament entitled “The Crisis Facing the Sugar Industry in Kenya” and seeing how much the national government and most of the counties in the region included in their budgets towards the same, it’s another spur of the moment reaction that will die immediately the war on contraband sugar ends. We need viable interventions to solve the mess in the sugar industry not cosmetic attempts.

The revival of the sector has been riddled with painful experiences by farmers and traders in the region. It has been the politicians and their extended families that always benefit from such, and it won’t be different this time. It’s just another chance for the elites and brokers to make a kill. Hopefully, Parliament, which a few days ago accepted a petition by a sugar industry lobby the Western Development Initiative Assistance (Wedia) will find time do debate thoroughly discuss the petition and come up with legislation that will firmly solve the problems in the sector.

The political leadership from the region must vigorously engage at the national level and repeal or reviews laws, edicts and administrative actions put in place by Treasury and the Ministry of Agriculture that have contributed to the death of the sector. The full operation of the sugar millers including Mumias, Nzoia, Butali, West Kenya, Kabras, Chemilil, Sony, Muhoroni and Kibos will make a great contribution to the manufacturing sector as promised in the big four agenda, and additionally provide jobs to the many youth in the area.In its current state, sugar farming can only be relevant to the more than two million farmers in the region, if cane is grown as a feeder crop for the dairy industry.

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We can’t afford to sink and waste the farmers anymore unless we strategically invest in the sector, looking the problems identified and recommendations are implemented.

The counties of Kakamega, Busia, Bungoma, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya and Homa Bay must as a matter of urgency look more seriously at the issue more than just shouting-it needs resources and the resolve to revive the industry. Knee jack reactions have failed to revive the cotton and fishy industries already.

Counties should quickly enact local laws and policies that will help in dealing with local millers within their jurisdictions that engage in unscrupulous business practices and frustrate farmers- in case governors are represented on the county security committees and are privy to intelligence reports on matters including even those trading in contrabands in these regions.

Before the eventual collapse of the sector, according to studies and Parliamentary reports done had blamed the collapse of the mostly state firms doing the sugar business on high local production costs, which made the country’s sugar un-competitive in the region and the entire world, gross mismanagement both under local and expatriate managers appointed by the government both at the board and senior management level-specifically poor performance management, skewed appointment of management personnel, out-grower institutions, procurement, marketing among others.

Additionally, it had been noted that the factory resources were under- utilized and the crushing capacities of most of them were low, because of use of very outdated technologies and shrinking land ownership.

Any attempts to revive the sugar sector must include measures to deal with corruption in the sector, de politicize the running of the state run companies and insulate the out grower companies against meddling by local politicians, creating local laws and policies to insulate farmers against greedy business people and urgent overhauling of current management to improve performance within the state controlled millers.

Victor Bwire, Media Council of Kenya.

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