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Relief for cane farmers as State begins Sh2.6b debt repayment

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

Sugarcane farmers have started receiving their arrears owed to them by the state-owned sugar millers.

During last year’s Mashujaa Day celebrations in Kakamega President Uhuru Kenyatta directed Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri and his treasury counterpart Henry Rotich to audit farmers and ensure they are paid their arrears amounting to Sh2.6 billion.

On Monday, Kiunjuri announced that the Treasury had released the money to pay farmers. He said the money would be sent to individual farmers’ bank accounts.

On Thursday, farmers contracted to the ailing Mumias and Nzoia sugar companies confirmed receiving their pay in their accounts. The two companies owe their farmers over Sh1 billion.

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However, some of the farmers complained that only part of what was owed to them by the millers was deposited to their accounts.

Alexander Chweya is one such farmer who claimed that Sh100, 000 paid to his account was less than what he expected. He has been waiting for the payment for four years.

“Mumias sugar was to pay me Sh500,000 but what is in my bank account is less, I don't understand why,” he said.

Micah Mayabi, a farmer contracted to Mumias confirmed that his account had been credited with Sh11, 000 owed to him by the company for deliveries he made over a year ago.

"It has been a long wait but thank God the government has kept its promise, I will use part of the money to pay fees," said Mayabi.

Francis Isongo could not believe his eyes when he found the Sh19, 000 he has been waiting for since 2016 in his account.

“I have been surviving on debts from friends now I will be able to repay some and prepare my land for planting,” he said.

While some farmers left the banks straight for recreational joints celebrate, others engaged in impulse buying.

But not all the farmers were lucky as several others left the banks crestfallen since the money had not been yet reflected in their accounts as anticipated.

A farmer from Mumias East, Robert Namatsi, whose account was still empty on Friday, said that he expected to be paid Sh780,000 for cane he supplied over three years ago to Mumias Sugar.

"My bills including fees for my children and I hope to receive the money soon,” he said.

Early last week, the National Treasury released Sh1.9 billion which was part of the Sh2.6 billion owed by State-owned millers to farmers.

The money covers deliveries made by farmers to the cash-strapped millers from 2014.

Farmers affiliated to Mumias are owed in excess of Sh800 million, being the largest debt among the millers.

The Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmer's deputy Secretary Simon Wesechere has asked the government to ensure all farmers are paid promptly.

"I have received complains from farmers owed large amounts but are yet to get the money which is sad." He said.

The farmers now want the sugar task force that was commissioned to draft report on how to revive the sugar industry to table its report faster.