Bitter life for cane growers as millers delay harvesting crop

Growers stuck with produce as Sony Sugar Company’s milling capacity has been overwhelmed.

Wednesday February 10 2016

Sixty-eight-year-old Henry Mokono pours sugar cane juice into jaggery barrels for boiling at his farm in South Mugirango, Kisii County on February 9, 2016. PHOTO | BENSON MOMANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Sixty-eight-year-old Henry Mokono pours sugar cane juice into jaggery barrels for boiling at his farm in South Mugirango, Kisii County on February 9, 2016. PHOTO | BENSON MOMANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By ELISHA OTIENO
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A drive through the Sony Sugar catchment region reveals a life of misery for cane farmers.

Overmature cane is a common sight in the villages. Some have dried and are being used as firewood.

Jaggery processing factories are sprouting in every corner to cash in on the desperate farmers.

The factories pay much less than established millers such as Sony Sugar Company. Despite this, some farmers opt to sell their cane to them to get quick cash to solve their financial crisis.

Mr James Omollo, 50, has a farm in Rongo, Migori County. He has not harvested for more than two years. He does not know what to do with his overmature cane.

“I have visited the factory (Sony) several times but I am being told to be patient. Cane on my neighbour’s farm is also overmature. I am contemplating switching to another cash crop,” he said.

Mr Tom Onyango, a father of five from Ranen in the same county, said: “I have no option but to take my cane to jaggery processing factories. I need money for my children’s school fees.”

HAVERSTING AND PAYMENT PROBLEMS

According to Mr Onyango, cane farming was lucrative 20 years ago when harvesting and payments were done on time.

“The sugar industry has no future unless the government expands the milling capacity of our factories. Cane farming has increased but the crushing capacity of our millers has remained the same. This is the genesis of our problems,” said Mr Onyango.

Mr John Agwenge has already switched to soya bean farming after waiting for more than two years for his cane to be harvested.

He sold his cash crop to the neighbouring Sukari Industries in Ndhiwa, which is privately owned.

Some farmers have been taking their cane to the Trans Mara Sugar Company

Sony currently pays Sh3,200 per tonne, although growers have been pushing for more than Sh4,000 due to the high cost of living and farm inputs.

A new cane variety, D8484, matures within 15 months, but many farmers have not planted it.

“The new variety will not make any difference to us if it will still take two years to get harvested,” said Mr Elijah Oyombe, another farmer.

“A number of cane growers within the Sony Sugar belt are now planning to stop farming the crop altogether because our pleas are falling on deaf ears,” said Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers Secretary-General Ezra Okoth.

The official said cane farming, which supported the livelihoods of millions of Nyanza residents, was “now becoming a liability”.

A top manager who requested anonymity because he is not authorised to talk to the media said the quantity of cane produced by growers in the region “overwhelmed our milling capacity, leading to delays in harvesting”.

Mr Okoth, however, thanked President Uhuru Kenyatta for coming to the rescue of the ailing Mumias Sugar Company and asked the government to consider writing off the huge debts of all millers so that they “start on a clean balance sheet”.

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