This year presented a mixed bag of fortunes for sugar cane farmers and millers as the sector was bedevilled by a host of factors.
However, the biggest announcement for farmers came when President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Ministry of Agriculture and the Treasury to clear an outstanding debt of more than Sh2.6 billion owed to more than 10,000 farmers.
While the order is yet to be effected after Agriculture Ministry recently concluded an audit to weed out unscrupulous growers, stakeholders are optimistic that settling the arrears will mark a major milestone in resolving sugar cane farmers’ problems.
Sony Sugar Managing Director Bernard Otieno said the move will strengthen the millers’ balance sheets as they struggle to cater for other pressing needs and remain afloat.
“State millers now have the advantage of the financial assistance and focus on factory maintenance to enable them to operate effectively and efficiently,” he said.
He noted that Sony needs Sh250 million to conduct comprehensive factory maintenance.
“The last time we fully serviced four machinery was four years ago because of financial constraints,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chemelil Sugar Company’s Gabriel Nyangweso has also raised concerns that worn-out machinery parts have greatly affected their cane crushing capacity and contributed to high production costs.
Operations at other public millers, including Mumias, Nzoia and Muhoroni are in a sorry state, while Miwani Sugar Company, which was put under receivership in 2000, appears to be on its death bed.
But Kenya National Federation of Sugar cane Farmers National Treasurer Stephen olé Narupa is optimistic President Kenyatta’s order will revive the sector.
“The President should follow up and ensure that farmers are paid promptly to enable them to prepare their land ahead of the planting season,” he said.
Mr Narupa said it is unfortunate that hundreds of farmers continue to suffer, with some even dying without receiving their money.
While the national government has committed to revive the once-lucrative sector, some farmers are sceptical that the newly formed sugar task force will resolve the sector’s underlying problems.
The task force co-chaired by Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, is expected to come up with permanent ways of tackling the problems in the sector.
But Mr Narupa, faulted the government for not involve farmers’ representatives from all the 13 licensed millers.
“The factories are experiencing unique challenges which can be understood only by farmers from the specific regions,” he said.
It is inconceivable for the government to exclude the critical players while coming up with rules which are supposed to govern farmers while going about their business,” he said.