FALSE START

Cane farmers reject state plans to revive sugar mills

Official says leasing public millers cannot solve their problems

In Summary

• Federation of Sugarcane Farmers says the government is 'not serious' in its plans

• Solutions to problems bedevilling the subsector are 'gathering dust in various reports'

President William Ruto leads cabinet meeting at Sagana State Lodge on August 8, 2023
President William Ruto leads cabinet meeting at Sagana State Lodge on August 8, 2023
Image: PCS

Sugarcane farmers have faulted the government decision to revive troubled state-owned sugar mills through leasing.

The decision on the revival of state-owned sugar companies was reached during a Cabinet meeting at Sagana State Lodge on Tuesday.

If approved by Parliament, Nzoia, Chemelil, Miwani, Muhoroni, South Nyanza and Mumias sugar companies would be operated through a lease and operating framework to commercialise them.

But the Federation of Sugarcane Farmers said in a statement yesterday that the government is not serious in reviving the sugar industry.

Deputy secretary general Simon Wesechere said the leasing of public millers cannot be the solution to revive public sugar mills. 

He said public sugar mills can only be steadied through serious cane development programmes that are honestly implemented.

“Whereas solutions to the problems bedevilling the subsector are gathering dust in various reports, such as the sugar industry task force, the government is employing firefighting tactics that cannot fix the industry woes,” he said.

He said whereas bailouts have been used to revive other subsectors, such as coffee, the government is reluctant to apply the same for the sugar subsector.

“Under what terms will the government lease to private millers? Under what laws will this be done?” Wesechere said.

“This decision confirms what the President observed about some members of his Cabinet: that they don’t have information about the ministries they run.”

He said without proper public participation, the decision would cause more harm than good.

“We reject the Cabinet decision and invite it for public meetings for a reminder of the real revival plans. This one of theirs is all but a mirage,” he said.

Wesechere said the government should publicly declare how much sugar the Cabinet has approved to be imported into the country.

He said the decision to allow sugar imports could be used by sugar barons to import sugar that can remain in the markets for five years and harm the subsector even more.

He said the decision was preceded by a blanket closure of all sugar mills as a ploy to ensure sugarcane farmers remain impoverished for as long as the current government is in power.

He termed the move to shut down all sugar mills to allow cane maturity a fallacy, saying there are farmers all over the schemes with overgrown cane.

“Such are some of the reasons farmers rejected privatisation of the public sugar mills for the practice of private millers as they are always scheming on how to hold all players, especially farmers and government, at ransom,” the official said.

He asked National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi to live up to the expectations of the Luhya nation.

“It has never happened in the history of cane farming that all mills can close for maintenance or euphemistically to let cane mature,” he said. 

A consultation meeting between Agriculture and Food Authority and sugar millers in Kisumu last Thursday resolved to suspend sugar production for two months effective July 14 to allow sugarcane to regenerate.

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