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Farmers reject cane zones plan

tractor transports sugarcane
A tractor transports sugarcane in western Kenya. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A task force formed by President Uhuru Kenyatta to look into the woes of sugarcane growing in western Kenya has recommended zoning, sparking outrage among farmers.

Zoning rules compel growers to sell cane to a miller operating within their regions rather than seek better prices elsewhere.

Parts of the report have recommended setting up of five zones across the country where farmers will be compelled to sell their produce to millers within these areas.

The report says this will curb sugarcane poaching and that it will not hurt price competitiveness.

“It is appropriate, therefore, to establish regional cane catchment areas whereby two or more millers are clustered within a defined region and farmers have the freedom to contract with any miller in the region,” the task force says.

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“Other countries with vibrant sugar sectors like Mauritius, South Africa and Northern India have successfully implemented regional/geographical zones in which their sugar mills operate,” it notes.

Yesterday Kenya Sugar Cane Growers Association (Kesga) Secretary General Richard Ogendo termed establishment of cane catchment areas as “mischievous” and meant to benefit importers.

“It was a waste of taxpayers’ money for the government task force to go round the country and collect views of farmers if they knew they had a pre-determined outcome,” he said.

Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers (KNFSF) treasurer Stephen Ole Narupa said they would oppose any move to tie farmers to specific mills.

“We will not allow the taskforce to introduce what was not agreed upon during our meetings,” he said.

Kenya National Alliance of Sugarcane Farmers Organisation chairman Saulo Busolo disowned the zoning proposal, saying it is against farmers’ recommendations.

“If as we have already seen in parts of the report is what will come out, we will reject it. We will not accept any form of modern-day slavery from any of the millers or the government,” Mr Busolo said yesterday. Under the recommendations of the report yet to be handed to the President, Central region will have Kisumu, Southern Nandi sub-counties and Kericho county while zone two (upper Western region) will comprise Bungoma, Kakamega, Trans-Nzoia and Uasin Gishu counties.

Zone three to be named lower Western region will have Mumias, Busia and Siaya counties while zone four (southern region) will cover Migori, Homa Bay, Kisii and Narok counties.

Coastal region will be the last one, taking Kwale, Tana River and Kilifi counties.

The task force planned to hand over the report at end of last year but farmers have alleged that moves to manipulate the report are behind the delays.

Mr Busolo added that they will seek audience with the newly appointed Agriculture Secretary Peter Munya and present their protests over the report’s recommendations.

The report is widely considered that it will provide solutions to revive the sugar sector, the mainstay of Western Kenya at a time the State-owned millers led by the once dominant Mumias Sugar have fallen into debts running into billions of shillings.

The State last year started plans to assess the assets and liabilities of Sony, Chemelil, Nzoia, Muhoroni and Miwani as it seeks to sell them.

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