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January 17, 2019

Cane poaching partly to blame for Nzoia miller woes — farmers

A Section of Nzoia sugar factory in Kanduyi constituency Bungoma county/BRIAN OJAMAA
A Section of Nzoia sugar factory in Kanduyi constituency Bungoma county/BRIAN OJAMAA

Sugar cane farmers want zoning reintroduced to protect the ailing Nzoia company in Kanduyi, Bungoma county.

The factory is in a financial crisis despit efforts to save it from collapse. The government wrote off most of its debts. It still owes about Sh35 billion.

Residents yesterday said competition for cane is partly to blame for the firm’s  problems.

They urged the government to act swiftly and stop other companies from poaching their cane and have them stick to their sugar belts.  They also want sugar imports stopped to allow local farmers to benefit.

Despite farmers’ pleas, some county leaders said the government has abandoned the company and it could soon close. 

Bungoma Agriculture executive Mathews Makanda said on Friday that the miller is dead and about to be buried. It has not been operating for two months.

But on Friday, company communications officer Gilbert Owino dismissed claims of collapse and said operations might resume as early as next week.

The government plans to privatise public millers. Kanduyi residents, however, want Nzoia handed over to the county government.

MP Wafula Wamunyinyi and other leaders have joined the calls. They said having the county run the facility would ensure farmers are the majority shareholders.

Many livelihoods are at stake and the collapse could take a heavy toll on residents who depend on it. The factory has been sponsoring sports clubs, including Nzoia FC and a Webuye rugby team.  

Nzoia had promoted the growth of business in most nearby towns such as Webuye, Bungoma, Nandolia and Bukembe. It was founded in the 1970s.

Many residents held positions in sections of the company to provide skilled and unskilled  labour as permanent or contracted employees. Others directly benefitted through cane growing.

The cash would trickle down and traders would have their share. Not even the red light districts across the towns were left out.

Currently, however, the situation is bleak and residents are worried.

Many retailers, jua kali artisans, and dairy, poultry and horticulture farmers have fled. Sugarcane cash no longer circulates as it used to.

Bukembe market bar owner Simon Wekesa told the Star he could make upto Sh16,000 profit a day, but things have never been the same since the factory troubles began.

 “Since Nzoia started experiencing financial challenges, my business has been doing badly. Fewer customers frequent this place. Only a few truck drivers are seen,” he said.

Wekesa said most of his customers were Nzoia Sugar employees and contractors, or those who depended on the miller indirectly.

Today, many workers say they have no money for pleasure as the little they have cannot even meet family needs, he said.

Anne said she is a prostitute from Tororo, Uganda. She said her business has been hurt by Nzoia’s dwindling fortunes. Some of her colleagues had to move to other towns to find clients as the Nzoia market has diminished, she said.

“We would make a lot of money from factory workers, especially at the end of the month. When I came here in 2009, there was a lot of cash flow. Today most of the workers are not paid on time and some go for months without pay. It’s terrible,” Anne said.

Company board chairman Joash Wamagoli’s term in office ended in March and the company has yet to get a new head.

Some residents want former Kanduyi MP Alfred Khanagti to take charge.

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