Farmers are set to wait longer for changes in the sugar industry after the reforms process ordered by President Uhuru Kenyatta failed to take off day.
A task force headed by Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya has suspended its public engagements indefinitely after a section of farmers threatened to launch a parallel process over pay delay. The public sessions were meant to last four days.
Late last year, President Kenyatta ordered the agriculture ministry to relook cane and sugar pricing mechanisms, review importation and taxation structures, and get consensus on the fate of State-owned millers.
Mr Oparanya’s team, appointed in October by agriculture ministry to spearhead reforms, said it suspended the public participation forums “until the State releases the Sh2.7 billion owed to farmers.”
“We have agreed that despite the numerous problems that are bedeviling the sugar sector, farmers have to be paid their outstanding amount before we engage them for their respective input into the programme,” said Mr Oparanya who also heads the Council of Governors.
The public forums are meant to resolve, among other things, issues surrounding zoning regulations, cane pricing models and import rules that farmers and other industry stakeholders have long opposed.
On Tuesday, a group calling itself the Kenya National Alliance of Sugarcane Farmers Organisations threatened to snub the Oparanya team and even launch a parallel process over delayed payment and failure to incorporate its members.
Cane farmers say membership of the 16-member task force does not represent its interests even though Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri maintains the team will talk to cane growers, outgrower institutions, millers, transporters, cooperative societies, cane cutters and local leaders.
Had the Wednesday public participation taken place, Sukari, Chemelil, Busia and Olepito sugar companies would have been the first venues to host the government-backed team.
Sugar-belt governors have opposed plans to sell public sugar firms to strategic investors, pushing to take control of the sugar companies.
“We are already in agreement with governors that the war we have about management of sugar sector is msore of a political fight than an economic issue,” says Mr Kiunjuri.