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Praise, threats as farmers react to sugar task force report

Wednesday February 26 2020

Kesga Secretary-General Richard Ogendo

Kenya Sugarcane Growers Association (Kesga) Secretary-General Richard Ogendo addresses journalists in Kisumu County on February 25, 2020, on the report of the National Sugar Taskforce. PHOTO | ONDARI OGEGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

BENSON AMADALA
By BENSON AMADALA
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VICTOR RABALLA
By VICTOR RABALLA
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Mixed reactions have followed presentation of the report of the National Sugar Task Force that President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed to examine what ails the sector for the sake of a revival.

The team, co-chaired by former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, handed the report to the President on Monday.

It made recommendations including paying farmers who deliver their cane to millers in seven days.

Mr Ibrahim Juma, chairman of the Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane (KNFSF), welcomed the report, saying it contains a clear formula for paying farmers.

“On behalf of farmers in the region, we are very happy and fully agree with the proposals. If implemented, the report will impact positively efforts for revival of the ailing sugar industry,” he said.

He asked the government to ensure the report is implemented fully and without delay.

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CHALLENGES

Mr Juma also spoke of the re-introduction of the Sugar Development Levy (SDL), describing it as a step in the right direction in the turnaround plans.

He also noted the challenge of poor management of sugar factories, with the report citing a high cost of production, a high debt portfolio, an acute cane shortage and declining yields.

Other challenges in the report are low value addition initiatives, inefficiencies, inadequate research and extension, ageing equipment, obsolete technology, reduced incomes to farmers and a weak regulatory framework.

“The main challenge, therefore, is how to strategically manage components of the value chain to make them efficient and competitive [for] the industry’s profitability,” says the report.

RAW MATERIALS

According to the report, millers have, for the last five years, failed to meet cane requirements due to unavailability of raw materials.

The shortage has been attributed to farmers abandoning cane for other crops due to preferential delays in payments by the millers, with arrears running into millions of shillings.

Currently some 191,215 hectares are under cane with a production of 4.75 million metric tonnes.

The report says: “At an average factory efficiency level of 80 per cent, the cane requirement will be 9.84 million MT, which translates to sugar production of 1.09 million MT per annum.”

To meet the requirement for adequate cane supply by millers, planting must be done on at least 263,959 hectares.

STAKEHOLDERS

But some farmers have accused the government of attempting to rubber-stamp “unrealistic and impractical” decisions through the report.

While rejecting the proposals, they appealed to President Kenyatta to recall and reconstitute the committee.

Kenya Sugarcane Growers Association (Kesga) Secretary-General Richard Ogendo accused the 16-member committee of drafting the proposals without engaging key stakeholders.

“Among other glaring omissions and commissions, it is surprising that the team came up with the views of stakeholders from Chemelil Sugar Company, while it is in the public domain that the meeting aborted after farmers protested to demand their dues,“ he said.

Speaking at the Public Service Club in Kisumu on Tuesday, Mr Ogendo spoke of “modern day slavery“ and cautioned that they will resist the report's implementation.

“We urge the President to engage stakeholders before tabling the report in Parliament for adoption,“ he said.

Charles Atyang, chairman of the Kenya Association of Sugarcane and Allied Products (Kasap), warned that farmers will uproot their cane if their views are not considered.

WHAT HAPPENED

According to the schedule the task force released, the team met several industry players at Chemelil's premises on March 13, 2019.

Reports by the Nation indicate, however, that the meeting was scuttled after farmers demanded arrears amounting to Sh200 million, dating back to 2014.

Mr Samuel Bonyo, Chemelil Outgrowers Company chairman, said: “We are not going to take part in any discussion until we are paid as promised by the government. Why the discrimination when farmers from other factories have been sorted out?”

Following the protests, the meeting chaired by Head of the Sugar Directorate Solomon Odera aborted indefinitely as efforts to calm the farmers fell on deaf ears.

Mr Atyang said: “It has come to us as a surprise that the views of stakeholders from Chemelil have been included in the final draft, which is expected to support the revival, development and sustainability of a competitive sugar industry."

Kasap Secretary-General Peter Odima asked the government to produce the ''Hansard'' report on the validation exercise conducted at Royal Swiss Hotel on March 30.