Controversy over establishment of a sugar mill in Kisii is not about to end after farmers differed with the government insisting the forest where it is to be set up, is not directly benefitting them.
An Indian investor Kanoria Group has already registered Kisii Renewable Energy and Sugar Factory Company Limited and plans to invest Sh5 billion to build the mill.
It is to be set up at Nyangweta Forest in Kisii County but the government says it is not about to reduce the country’s forest cover by an inch.
A fortnight ago, Environment and Forestry CS Keriako Tobiko opposed the excision of 120 acres of Nyangweta arguing that such a move will further reduce the tree cover of Kisii region, which currently falls below the recommended 10 per cent.
But Philip Maobe, a sugarcane farmer from South Mugirango says a factory near his farm will earn him more. He has 10 acres and takes his produce to Trans Mara Sugar Company in Narok County for processing.
“I incur extra expenses in transportation. I also have to wait for long before my cane is harvested thus reducing its quality,” he says.
The farmer says as the main beneficiaries of the proposed factory, they are frustrated that it is facing many challenges even before its establishment. “All we want is the factory. We know what is good for us,” said Maobe.
Zachary Nyaega who has two acres of sugarcane says they have not benefitted from the forest and would not mind a sugar factory which will directly help them.
“The trees in the forest have not been of help to us directly. We know how the sugar factory will help improve our lives,” he said.
Two weeks ago, the Senate Committee on Land, Environment and Natural Resources, which is considering a petition by Governor James Ongwae to hive off part of the forest, was in Kisii County for a site visit and meeting with stakeholders.
Led by Marsabit Senator Godana Halgura, the team visited Insaria Hill in Bonchari, cane-growing areas in South Mugirango and the proposed site of the mill.
Nyangweta is the largest of the eight designated government forests in the region.
Area member of parliament Sylvanus Osoro, his predecessor Manson Nyamweya and Kisii County Assembly Speaker David Kombo who hail from the area say they fully support the project.
They said with its completion, farmers had hoped to reap huge benefits from the venture as it would significantly reduce transportation costs incurred ferrying the produce to millers in neighbouring Migori and Narok counties.
'A big yes'
“It is a big yes for me. We need this factory like yesterday. Some of those opposed to its establishment come from other areas but we are the ones who know our problems. Once it is established, it will be a dream come true for the constituency,” said Mr Osoro.
Mr Nyamweya asked the county government to fast-track its promise and start the factory.
He said the proposed sugar mill would immensely contribute to the socio-economic development of Kisii County.
“It would go a long way to improve the economy of South Mugirango and Kisii County in general,” he said.
Mr Kombo said the company will help in value addition. “Instead of developing other counties, it would be best if we did it ourselves,” he says.
Tabaka Ward MCA Daniel Apepo said they have waited for the company for over three decades. “If you want to be an enemy of the people, oppose its construction,” he said.
He said the proposed site is not a water catchment area and would not cause any environmental degradation. “Furthermore, locals have planted trees in their homesteads, we do not want outsiders interfering with our investment,” he said.
MCAs James Ngisa (Bogetenga), Joseph Chweya (Boikanga), Samwel Nyambeki (Getenga), Evans Mokoro (Moticho) and Andrew Kimonge (Chitago/Borabu) have also supported the project.