Confusion as rival team starts review of sugar laws today


Confusion reigns in the country’s sugar belt as a parallel task force formed by disgruntled farmers begins sessions Monday. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Confusion reigns in the country’s sugar belt as a parallel task force formed by disgruntled farmers begins sessions Monday, one week after a team appointed by the Agriculture ministry suspended public hearings indefinitely.

According to its schedule, the team consisting of cane farmers and sugar experts starts month-long public participation this morning at Mabanga Agricultural Training Centre in Bungoma County.

“This will provide a good opportunity for farmers to air their views as they have been excluded from the ongoing discussions which are expected to recommend strategies that will support the development of a sustainable sugar industry,” said Saulo Busolo (right).

Mr Busolo is chairman of the Kenya National Alliance of Sugarcane Farmers Organisations whose members include Sugar Campaign for Change, Kenya Sugarcane Growers Association, Kenya Association of Sugarcane Farmers and Allied Products, and a faction of Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers.

He said that views gathered across sugar producing counties during the exercise will be presented to the government for inclusion in the draft Crops (Sugar) General Regulations, 2018.

“We intend to start serious engagement with farmers in the western sugar belt which includes Bungoma, Kakamega and Busia before moving to other regions of the country,” Mr Busolo said.

Suspended sessions

Last week, the 16-member taskforce appointed by the government to oversee public hearings suspended sessions over hostility by farmers who are owed Sh2.7 billion for previous deliveries.

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who co-chairs the taskforce with Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, has called on the government to settle the debt first.

Since no cash was provided for in the 2018/19 budget, the farmers have to wait for a supplementary budget which President Uhuru Kenyatta has indicated would be ready in a matter of days.

“Unlike in the past, farmers will be paid directly and not through millers to avoid diversion of money,” Mr Kenyatta said during the burial of former Youth Enterprise Development Fund chairman Bruce Odhiambo in Muhoroni last week.

Farmers have indicated strong opposition to zoning rules, a set of regulations favoured by government sugar firms, governors and Agriculture ministry officials.

“We do not want to be used as a rubber stamp by millers who have vested interests and plan to introduce zoning despite opposition from farmers,” said Sugar Campaign for Change lobby co-ordinator Michael Arum.

“Zoning would oblige farmers to sell their produce to specific sugar mills, with a single buyer for each area dictated by regulations.”