Public and private sugar millers are on the warpath over rampant cane poaching, which has been linked to the collapse of some firms.
Public millers have often accused their private counterparts of enticing farmers they [public firms] contract to grow sugar cane. This leaves the public millers with huge losses after heavy investment on the farms.
Last month, South Nyanza Sugar Company acting managing director Bernard Otieno told the Implementation Committee of the National Assembly that the only surviving public firm has lost Sh2.3 billion worth of cane to two private millers.
Otieno accused Sukari Industries and Mara Sugar in Trans Mara, both privately owned, of being behind the poaching of cane, paralysing the state-owned mill.
Yesterday Kibos Sugar and Allied Companies boss Raju Patel dismissed claims of poaching by private companies. He said both public and private companies poach sugar cane.
Patel told the committee chaired by Narok North MP Moitalel Kenta that it is difficult to ascertain contracted farmers as most enter into agreements with up to five millers.
"There is no way you can confirm the farmers have not entered into any contract with another firm. The issue of poaching is not exclusive to public millers only, even our contracted cane is poached," he said.
Mumias West MP Johnson Naicca said it is unfair for some millers to wait for other firms to fund cane farming only for them to steal it by dangling better pay to the farmers.
"Some sugar millers spend millions in fertilisers and seedlings for farmers. But this investment is lost when other firms, who are not ready to invest in farming, poach the cane," he said.
"Don’t you think it is unfair that some farmers get funding from some of these firms but they end up selling the cane to you because of perhaps better and prompt payment?”
Patel said the farmers are not forced to sell their sugar cane and the transactions are on willing-buyer-and willing-seller basis. "You cannot subject a farmer to a single miller," he said,
Patel appeared before the committee regarding the implementation of the report by the departmental Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Cooperatives on the crisis facing the sugar industry.
He said in instances where it is proven farmers sold to his firm sugar cane grown by another mill, then his company wires all the due owed to the latter.
Last week, West Kenya Sugar boss Jaswant Rai dismissed the poaching allegations. He told the committee he was under attack by other millers because his company has been doing well.
Rai said his rivals are determined to bring him.
Stakeholders in the industry have been rooting for introduction of regional zoning to curb the poaching.