Bungoma has invested in weather stations, chicken abattoir and milk, as well as coffee processing plants. Stanley Kimuge had a chat with Governor Ken Lusaka on how these projects will change farmers’ fortunes.
Your government recently set up several weather stations. What change do they herald?
Most farmers incur losses due to poor timing; farming is all about the weather. If there is reliable data from the county, we will be able to advice farmers on when to plant, and thus, they would have a better timing.
The weather substations are at Sirisia, Tongeran, Bumula and Kapsokwony. The main station is in Bungoma town.
Sugarcane is grown here but farmers are a disgruntled lot. Now, there are plans to privatise the sugar factories, what is your take?
As governors in the sugar producing counties, we have said that before the privatisation begins, some issues should be resolved, like what is the farmers’ stake and are farmers ready to buy shares? But to our surprise, privatisation has begun.
Our proposal was for county governments to buy shares on behalf of farmers and hold in trust until when they are ready to buy.
If this privatisation is not handled properly, it is going to hurt farmers more. Farmers also want diversification. Currently, Nzoia Sugar Company produces sugar and molasses only. But cane can produce up to 18 different by-products like water, alcohol and power.
How has devolution changed farmers’ fortunes?
When I came into office, I started the input-support project where farmers were offered subsidised fertiliser and seeds. In the first year, we gave free seeds and fertiliser to 200 needy families per ward and sold to others the produce at Sh1,800 instead of Sh2,400.
This has been ongoing. From the reports we are getting maize production has improved from seven bags per acre to 15 bags per acre through the project.
We have also bought 15 motorcycles for every ward to improve extension services.
Kitinda milk processing plant put smiles on the faces of many dairy farmers years back.
Then the factory collapsed. What is the progress of its revival?
The plant is working though not to its optimum. We have held discussions with the national government, and they have assured us that they will set aside funds to support us relocate it because the facilities are dilapidated.
As we revive the plant, we are also expanding milk production. We have started by buying 150 pedigree cows and offering them to farmers to better the breeds they keep. Another 250 cows will be bought.
However, we just don’t want to have enough milk but add value by making cheese and yoghurt.
In the same vein, bananas, cotton, coffee and tomatoes are grown abundantly in the area, any plans for value addition?
Certainly, we want to process most of our produce. There is a CDF office in Kimilili which we are converting into a tomato plant by installing equipment to process the produce.
We are also setting up a maize milling plant at Tongaren to cushion farmers from exploitation.
We have assisted the Mount Elgon and Bungoma Co-operative Unions to purchase the coffee milling equipment at cost of Sh16 million.
You recently announced you are distributing chickens to families. What is that all about?
It is true we are distributing 10,000 chickens to farmers so that we can have enough birds to slaughter once the Chwele slaughterhouse is completed.
The plant will process up to 3,000 chickens in a day, a number we cannot get if we do not increase production.