The controversy surrounding the 33-year lease for an 8,700-acre nucleus estate used by Mumias Sugar Company for cane development is now before the National Assembly, amid a legal case initiated by affected families seeking to repossess the land.
At the centre of the row are families — locally referred to as Abahuyi (Luhya word for immigrants) — battling to resettle on the land after the lease granted to the miller expired in 2001.
Some 649 families from Mumias are battling to get back the land. They argue that the miller had not sought an extension of the lease and that they were yet to be compensated by the government.
Abahuyi are a group of families from the Wanga community who are said to have been moved from their homes in the early 1970s to create room for the nucleus estate.
Area MP Benjamin Washiali has asked Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri to provide a detailed statement to the National Assembly on the status of the nucleus estate and shed light on the government’s plans after the expiry of the lease.
The MP, who raised the issue on the floor of the House, is seeking answers to plans for leasing out of the nucleus farm to third parties by the management of the financially struggling sugar miller.
Mr Washiali further wants the government to clarify whether the land has been transferred from individual ownership to the Mumias Sugar Company.
Mr Washiali raises the issue of whether the miller has a right to lease the land to third parties without the knowledge of its owners.
“Could the CS also confirm whether the Mumias Sugar Company Limited is interested in the nucleus land for purposes of cane development and, if not, when will the Cabinet Secretary commence the process of ensuring that the said land reverts to its original owners?” Mr Washiali posed.
The Speaker referred the matter to the departmental committee on Agriculture and Livestock.
There had been speculation that a leading private miller from Kakamega County had placed a bid for the lease of the nucleus estate after Mumias announced plans to lease out non-core assets, including a water bottling plant and the nucleus estate.
But Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya opposed the move and formed a 13-member committee to come up with a revival plan for the ailing miller.
Mumias Sugar has been using the nucleus estate for cane development to ensure supply of raw material to sustain milling operations.
A case filed by the families is currently pending before a Kisumu court.
Last week, the chairman of the affected families, Mr Kassim Wangalwa, the group’s secretary Mohammed Rajab and other officials were in Kisumu to meet the lawyer representing them in the matter.
“We were expecting the matter, which has been dragging in court for the past 11 years, to resume but unfortunately our lawyer is bereaved and we will be back in two weeks,” said Mr Rajab.
The Abahuyi, through the Abahuyi Mumias Nucleus Association, have vowed to fight until they get back their land.
“We are in possession of the title deeds for the land and copies of the original agreement which was drawn during the lease of the land. We are tired of being taken in circles about this matter,” said Mr Rajab.
As they spoke, professionals from Western Kenya supported ongoing efforts by the Kakamega County government to develop a revival plan for Mumias Sugar.
The professionals, who include Mombasa lawyer Francis Kadima and former MP and minister Prof Amukowa Anangwe, said a credible team should be picked to steer the debt-ridden miller through the difficult revival phase and get normal operations back on track.
They recommended that the firm’s leadership should comprise experienced professionals who will not be influenced by cartels in the sugar industry.
Mr Kadima and Prof Anangwe said the decision taken by Governor Oparanya to appoint a task force to protect public assets at Mumias Sugar and come up with a revival strategy was a step in the right direction.
Mr Kadima said a proper cane development programme should be developed to ensure adequate supply of cane. “We need to win the confidence of the dejected farmers who have abandoned sugar farming for other crops because of the delayed payments and poor prices,” said Mr Kadima.