Kenya: Sugar Cane Farmers Need More Money to Revive Dying Mills

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Farmers in Western Kenya hope the government will fulfil its promise to release funds in tomorrow’s budget to turn around the troubled sugar sector, the region’s economic mainstay.

Growers from Kakamega County, whose livelihoods have been disrupted due to near collapse of mills, are hoping the government will allocate adequate funds for revival of factories.

PROVISION OF SUBSIDIES

They will also be keenly following the reading of the budget statement, expecting provision of subsidies to enable them to increase sugar cane production.

Thousands of farmers in the region depended on sugarcane as their main source of income but their cash cow was jolted after the debt-ridden Mumias Sugar Company (MSC) stopped operations.

Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) placed the miller under receivership two years ago and plans to revive operations remain in limbo.

Farmers complained that the receiver manager, Mr Ponangipalli Rao, had promised to restart milling in January this year but so far the factory remains silent.

Mr Rao said he expects sugar milling to resume in September after engineers inspect the mills, adding the equipment was viable.

Currently, the miller is involved in production of ethanol, which has been disrupted by a shortage of molasses.

MAKING PROMISES

Mr Ibrahim Juma, the chairman of the Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers (KNFSF), said the government has been making promises in the past without fulfilling them.

The federation plans to discuss the issue of the estimates in an executive board meeting.

“We have the national sugar task force report, which was handed to President Kenyatta and we have been waiting to have the recommendations implemented, but so far there has been very little action from the government,” said Mr Juma.

The federation, which represents farmers from Kakamega, Busia and Bungoma counties, is calling for proper funding of the sugar sector to revive state-run millers.

“We are further hoping the government will finally agree to privatise the collapsed state-run sugar millers as the only viable option for their revival. Any further delay in the proposed privatisation of the sugar factories will cripple the sector,” said Mr Juma.

An allocation for setting up of the Sugar Development Levy Fund (SDL) is expected to give a huge boost to millers and improve sugarcane development within their catchments to ensure adequate supply of raw material.

“Currently, private sugar millers are buying cane from the neighbouring Uganda because it is cheaper there but back at home, millers are struggling because of unavailability of raw materials,” said Mr Juma.

RAW MATERIAL

Mr Richard Ogendo, a cane farmer in Kisumu, expects the government not to levy tax on sugarcane as it is only a raw material.

“I want the government to collect tax from retailers and wholesalers and not from the factories,” said Mr Ogendo.

He also wants cane outgrowers’ companies to be given Sh1 billion for crop development, as happened with coffee farmers through their respective cooperatives.

He also hopes that a crucial link road in Nyanza will be repaired. Last week, there was hope for residents after plans to rehabilitate the Mamboleo-Miwani-Kipsitet Road were announced.

This was after the Kenya National Highways Authority and local leaders agreed on a road map to commence and complete the works.

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