Rival millers battle for control of Busia cane

Government task force collects views on ailing sector

In Summary

•Busia Sugar and its contracted farmers support zoning but rival West Kenya opposes

•National government asked to support cane farmers to ensure sugar levy is allocated

West Kenya Sugar manager Jaswant Rai during the sugar task force meeting held in Busia county on March 14
TAKING VIEWS: West Kenya Sugar manager Jaswant Rai during the sugar task force meeting held in Busia county on March 14

Two Busia sugar millers have differed over plans to re-introduce cane zoning, amid open rivalry by companies for the control of cane in the region.

Busia Sugar Industry and its contracted farmers support zoning but West Kenya Sugar Company is strongly opposed.

Hussain Kaka, the operations manager at Busia Sugar, has accused West Kenya of hidden agenda. He alleges the rival miller is trying to monopolise the industry by killing other millers.

"BSI supports zoning on a regional basis due to numerous advantages it comes with along helping revive the struggling sugar sector," Kaka said.

BSI supports zoning on regional basis, due to numerous advantages it comes along with in helping revive the struggling sugar sector
Hussain Kaka, Operations Manger, Busia Sugar Industry

But West Kenya farmers insist they should be free to sell their produce where they wish if the industry is to be revived.

The  Ministry of Agriculture has been called upon to support cane farmers to ensure the sugar levy is allocated.

Led by the chairman Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane farmers Ibrahim Juma, West Kenya farmers aired their dissatisfaction before the sugar industry task force.

Over 300 cane farmers met the task force in Butula subcounty before the team proceeded to Busia Sugar Industry.

Juma said policies should be put in place to create a level playing ground.

"It is like a football match with two strong teams but no referee. We, therefore, want regulations to be put in place for fair play," Juma said.

He added, "The other major problem is that farmers rarely get their payment on time. Government millers take up to 18 months to pay farmers."

Juma suggested that farmers should be paid within seven days after delivering the cane.

He called for the formation of a special committee to look into how sugar should be imported.

The committee should have one or two farmers, representatives from the national and county governments and the millers, he said.

Juma suggested that the Sugar Development Levy be re-introduced and properly managed to enable farmers to get loans at a low interest to maximize production.

The industry is crippled by weak legal frameworks and enforcement policies and unregulated imports from.

Mumias Sugar cane farmers confirm the weight of cane on a tractor at Butali sugar weighbridge
Mumias Sugar cane farmers confirm the weight of cane on a tractor at Butali sugar weighbridge
Image: FILE

His sentiments were echoed by the branch chairman of the Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers Anthony Okwara who said millers should harvest and transport cane on time, preferably within 24 hours, to avoid losses .

He said the sugar levy would help millers with rehabilitation, improvement of infrastructure and sugarcane development.

"The move by the government to crap the Sugar Development Levy, which offered loans to both farmers and millers to develop sugarcane, has worsened the problem of insufficient raw material," Juma said.

Minority Leader in the Busia County Assembly Felix Omanyo said the cost of doing business in Kenya should be reviewed as it has resulted in the closure of businesses .

He added that leaders of Busia county do not support monopolies,  hence no zoning.

Omanyo said agriculture is a devolved function and the headquarters for sugar should be moved from Nairobi to Kisumu to serve the Western and Nyanza regions.

A representative of Olepito farmers, David Wanzala, said the pricing of sugarcane should be based on demand and supply.

"Pricing of sugar should be determined by the price of sugar in the market where the government should formulate and regulate the policy," he said.

Another farmer, Peter Odima, stressed the need for farmers to have liberty over their produce and decide where to sell their cane.

Nambale MP John Bunyasi told millers to ensure they localise value addition for farmers to reap big through ventures like production of industrial alcohol and electricity.

The task force leader Patrick Obutia said their final report would be submitted by the end of this month.

He said their main aim is to revive the sector.

Among the six areas discussed were policy and legal framework, challenges facing the sector, views on importation and suitable intervention to revitalize the mills.

West Kenya Sugar CEO Jaswant Rai said he opposes zoning of cane and called upon the task force to look into pricing.