BARASA: Attempts to lease millers’ nucleus estates must stop

The move orchestrated questionable individuals will break their survival and expose them to all manner of manipulations.

In Summary
  • The highest target in this crusade is Mumias sugar’s more than 8,000 acres nucleus estate land.
  • The new receiver manager, Sarrai Group, has already transformed 75 per cent of the land into a thriving lush sugarcane plantation.
A farmer harvests sugarcane in Muhoroni, Kisumu county.
SUGAR SECTOR: A farmer harvests sugarcane in Muhoroni, Kisumu county.
Image: FILE

A dangerous narrative is emerging about the leasing of sugarcane nucleus land to moneyed private individuals who may be having highly questionable backgrounds, intents and purposes on the country’s ailing sugar industry.

This comes in the wake of a four-day international investor conference, which was organised and hosted by Kakamega county in whose jurisdiction the Mumias Sugar Company's targeted nucleus falls. 

Their removal for lease to questionable individuals will be breaking their survival, hence exposing them to all manner of manipulations and threats from the lease holders.

Statistics from the sugar directorate indicate the country’s sugar factories with own title deeded nucleus estates include the ailing giant Mumias Sugar in Kakamega county, Nzoia in neighbouring Bungoma, Chemilil, Sony, Muhoroni and Miwani (the oldest), whose operations ground to a halt decades ago all in the former Nyanza province.

These are all state corporations, apart from Mumias Sugar Company which was privatised and listed to the Nairobi Securities Exchange because of its sterling performance under Booker Tate Plc management before local managers ground its operations to a halt.

The new privately-owned entrants like Busia Sugar Industries in Busia county is also documented to have its own nucleus estate as required by law, but others like Olepito also in Busia, Sukari Millers in Homa Bay, West Kenya Sugar, also known as Kabras Millers, are entities documented not to have nucleus estates even when billionaire Jaswant Rai’s group bought it from the Biku Patel family.

This state of affairs is likely to trigger predatory tendencies on other nucleus estates not forgetting the fact that the group’s entry in the sugar industry triggered deadly vicious poaching battles for cane belonging to farmers contracted to other millers that brought the sub-sector to near total collapse.

The person leading the predatory pack baying to lease the nucleus estates to strangers and divorcing them from the milling companies is Kakamega Governor Ferdinand Barasa in a county hosting the troubled giant millers Mumias Sugar, West Kenya/Kabras and Butali Sugar. The reasons, intents and purposes is best known to him.

The highest target in this crusade is Mumias sugar’s more than 8,000 acres nucleus estate land. The new receiver manager, Sarrai Group, has already transformed 75 per cent of it into a thriving lush sugarcane plantation from an abandoned cattle grazing fields free for all.

Yet it is clearly stipulated by the sugar industry regulatory rules that every miller must have her own nucleus estate, which means the Jaswant Rai Group’s West Kenya/Kabras, without a nucleus estate, is operating illegally and therefore breaking the law.

Indeed it goes without saying that there is no serious investor who would want to buy a sugar milling concern without a nucleus estate with own sugarcane to be grown for a rainy day when supplies from contracted farmers dwindle to low levels.

Already on the ground, there are tell-tale signs that those pushing for this kind of arrangement want to grab the nucleus to feed their personal interests and it is for this reason that leaders from Western region must all rise up and protect Mumias Sugar factory and others that may fall prey to such nefarious machinations.

Mumias Sugar has 8,700 acres of land under the nucleus while Nzoia has 8,895 acres that was procured by the government as a shareholder in the companies by paying hundreds of millions of shillings to the original local owners.

MSC’s sterling performance under the management of the British management group Booker Tate Plc in 1976 led to its privatisation and listing at the NSC, but its troubles started when Booker Tate was kicked out and local managers took over that saw its operations grind to a halt.

On the other hand, Nzoia remains a state corporation just like Chemilil, Muhoroni, Sony and Miwani, which had been targeted for privatisation by former President Uhuru Kenyatta, a move that President William Ruto has in the recent past indicated will not be executed but instead revived to profitability.

The move by Governor Barasa must be condemned for trying to mislead the President to support the leasing of the nucleus land to a third party.

That the Sarrai Group, despite crippling legal battles that halted its operations, has injected life into towns like Mumias, Sibale, Ekero and Mayoni into thriving entities which had become ghost towns after operations at MSC ground to a halt.

The other troubling development is that in the recent past there have been mysterious fires which have been triggered in the targeted estate that have since seen the loss of more than 38 acres of nucleus sugarcane worth more than Sh8.2 million in what could easily be perceived as sabotage tactics by those agitating for the sale of that land.

Indeed, the characters behind these nefarious schemes are well known ruthless and deadly individuals who have used millions of shillings in bribes and want to destroy MSC through all means possible. 

Journalist and media consultant, [email protected]

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