A meeting convened for sugarcane farmers to validate a report of a task force formed by the government to look into the sector’s woes on Saturday almost aborted after farmers vehemently rejected an attempt to introduce regional zoning.
It took the firm intervention of Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya to pacify charged farmers who were shouting and chanting “no zoning,” as the meeting turned chaotic, almost degenerating into a fist-fight.
All this unfolded in the presence of the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, who appointed the 16-member team in November 9, 2018 tasking it with the ambitious goal of solving the sector’s problems permanently.
The meeting was also attended by Nandi Governor Stephen Sang, Migori Governor Okoth Obado, Wycliffe Wangamati (Bungoma) and Kisumu Deputy Governor.
Several other political leaders were also present, among them Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula, Seme MP James Nyikal, Tinderet MP Julius Meli, Kanduyi’s Wafula Wamunyinyi, Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi and nominated Senator Getrude Inimah.
Mr Oparanya assured the protesting farmers that the task force would relook into the zoning issue.
"Going by the mood in the room, the task force will sit down and relook the matter and make a final ruling on the same," said the Council of Governors chairman who is also the co-task force head alongside Mr Kiunjuri.
This means that the team will have until the end of Sunday to consolidate the draft sugar report before submitting to President Uhuru Kenyatta. The team's term ends on Sunday.
The validation meeting which was held at the Grand Royal Swiss Hotel in Kisumu had been called by the taskforce to take farmers and stakeholders through their findings and recommendations.
Other highlights of the report include privatisation arrangements and control of importation which threatens to bring down the industry.
Farmers agreed to most of the findings and proposals. They validated the government plan to privatise public mills as one of the measures aimed at reviving ailing sector.
The zoning, however, remains a thorny issue.
Trouble started when a farmer from Busia, Ms Monicah Mung’ala, rose up to question the proposed establishment of regional catchment areas, during the plenary session.
Farmers are convinced it was an attempt to introduce regional zoning, which they have strongly opposed.
They termed the move to divide sugarcane growing regions into five main blocks as a breach of the Competition Act that prohibits restrictive trade practices.
The proposed regional catchment areas for sugar cane farmers are Coast, Central, Upper Western, Lower Western and the South Nyanza.
But farmers have questioned the criteria and intention for the regions. They claim the proposal is driven by cartels out to benefit from the regional structures.
Interim chairman of the umbrella Kenya National Sugarcane Alliance of Sugarcane Farmers Organisations Saulo Busolo said the issue of zoning will either break or make the sugar cane industry.
“If people want to zone, they can plant their own cane. Otherwise, we won’t accept to be enslaved,” he said.