14 June 2018

Kenya: Sugar Belt in Dilemma As Farmers Urged to Embrace Other Cash Crops

Politicians in Nyanza region's sugar cane growing zones are encouraging farmers to venture to new cash crops, even as they argue they support efforts to revive the ailing cane sector.

The public standpoints of these leaders could perhaps define the policy confusion facing sugar farming, whose fortunes has been on a free-fall in the last two decades.

Already, operations at Chemelil, Muhoroni and Miwani sugar companies have ground to a halt, due to cane shortage but also compounded by various other managerial and financial problems.

In Nyanza, which also has South Nyanza Sugar Company (Sony), a public miller, there are talks of alternative options of cash crops to encourage the farmers to diversify. But no one is willing to place a lid on the era of cane farming.

INTERCROPPING

Mr Raila Odinga, the leading politician in the region, whose word is almost taken as the law, last week hinted to farmers in Nyanza region to consider intercropping avocado with other crops.

This, he says, will help in diversification and end over reliance on certain produce.

Mr Odinga has already introduced an avocado specialist, Mr Edwin Ng'ong'a in two occasions in Nyanza, the first one being in Migori and Siaya Counties.

Mr Odinga revealed that already there were one million avocado seedlings ready for planting.

But even a plans to ensure economic viability of the region that has been dogged with politics for many years take shape, efforts to save the ailing sugar industry are still rife.

Even though farmers in the region were keen on rice and sorghum growing, there are all indications cane is still a highly regarded crop.

SORGHUM FARMING

Kenya Breweries Limited targets 15,000 sorghum farmers in the next five years, offering a guaranteed market for the crop following its investment of a Sh15 billion brewery in Kisumu town.

The brewery is expected to create 100,000 indirect jobs, from the farms to the Senator Keg distribution chain in Western and Nyanza counties.

Ms Jean Kiarie, Kenya Breweries head of sustainability programme has since challenged the youth to embrace sorghum farming as the region gears up for launch of the brewery.

Speaking at Busia Agricultural Centre during an entrepreneurship summit hosted by KBL in partnership with Busia County Government, Ms Kiarie said the brewer was sourcing material locally to entice farmers into sorghum farming.

"We are implementing a 'West for West' strategy in our local sourcing of sorghum which seeks to have majority of raw materials for Kisumu Brewery sourced from the Western and Lake regions of the country," Ms Kiarie added.

VERGE OF COLLAPSE

In Kisumu, Governor Anyang' Nyong'o has backed efforts by farmers to grow sorghum but is keen on ensuring the sugar industry is not forgotten.

Prof Nyong'o has underlined the need for a thorough audit of public millers to safeguard the mainstay of cane farmers and the sector which is on the verge of collapse.

He said this was the best way to restore confidence of the farmers and other stakeholders who are the critical players in the industry.

His intervention comes even as operations Kisumu County-based Chemelil, Muhoroni and Miwani sugar companies have ground to a halt.

"It is becoming extremely difficult for farmers to trust the same management which they allege to be misusing their resources and failing to pay them," he said at a meeting with the management of Muhoroni Sugar Company and farmers.

LIFESTYLE AUDIT

As a way out, the governor challenged the management of the company to engage a reputable firm to do an audit, including the lifestyle audit of top management.

The farmers who presented their memorandum to the governor at his Kisumu office also reiterated the need for restoration of sugar development levy to support cane development and research.

The sharp divisions between the farmers and the management, which emerged at the governor's boardroom on Thursday, caused an arbitration effort by Prof Nyong'o to end prematurely due to hostilities and leadership wrangles amongst farmers.

The two factions of Muhoroni branch Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers (KNFSF) accused each other of being behind the rundown of the public miller.

While Governor Nyong'o faulted the two receiver managers for failing to issue a notice to farmers before shutting Muhoroni last week, he appealed to farmers to stop their grandstanding. But KNFSF faction headed by Mr Charles Anyumba insisted that the receiver managers must leave the premises before farmers can take their canes to the factory.

LEFT HELPLESS

He accused the management of the company of ferrying a rival group to a meeting at which they were not required But receiver manager Mr Fredrick Kebeney said the managing director Mr Nashon Oseko delivered the me ssage to Agriculture Chief Officer and left a note to the Governor when he failed to meet him on two occasions.

"We took every initiative to inform the national and county governments of our progress before we finally decided to shut down," he said.

Mr Kebeney said the company was undergoing a lot of difficulties before they decided to shut and stop operations.

"The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) had closed all our accounts and we were left helpless," he said.

Mr Oseko said that the company currently owes farmers in excess of Sh471 million and a further Sh107 million.

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