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Not yet sweet news for cane farmers owed Sh2.6 billion

Sugarcane farmers will have to wait longer for Sh2.6 billion owed to them as they will first undergo vetting to establish if they are genuine growers.

The money is owed by State-owned millers — Chemelil, Miwani, Muhoroni, Nzoia and Sony Sugar — for cane deliveries made from 2014 to date but remains unpaid due to the poor financial position of the firms.

“We have constituted a committee comprising officers from the ministry and millers to vet all farmers owed money. The committee will start the process early next week,” Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri said yesterday.

He said the Government aims to pay the farmers before the end of the year. Kiunjuri made the remarks yesterday when he launched a new task force to identify challenges bedevilling the sugar industry.

The 15-member task force, to be gazetted tomorrow, has 30 days to compile a comprehensive report that will steer full revitalisation of the industry.

“The sugar task force is expected to give recommendations to address problems bedevilling the industry and revive State-owned millers,” he added. The task force was formed following a directive by President Uhuru Kenyatta during Mashujaa Day celebrations at Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega county on October 20. 

The team will be co-chaired by Kiunjuri and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, other members of the task force are governors Okoth Obado (Migori) and Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu).

Representation is also drawn from the National Assembly, National Treasury, Privatisation Commission, private mills, Attorney General, Intergovernmental Relations Technical Committee, Senate, Agriculture ministry and National Treasury.

Data from  Agriculture ministry indicates that between 2014 and today, the government owes Sh889 million to growers who delivered cane to Mumias Sugar Company while Muhoroni’s stands Sh474 million.

While Sh201 million is owed to farmers affiliated to Chemelil, those attached to Sony Sugar are owed Sh512million and Nzoia Sh524 million. Kiunjuri said he will lead a team to meet farmers next week in Kisumu, Migori and Bungoma counties to address the issue of payments to maize and cane farmers.

The CS said the industry is facing myriad challenges such as low cane supply, cane poaching, ageing equipment, obsolete technology and high debts portfolio including farmers’ arrears.

Last year, the sugar industry almost collapsed as production dipped by 41.3 per cent to 375, 000 tonnes from 639,000 tonnes in 2016.

To cushion Kenyans from acute shortage and skyrocketing prices, the government allowed importation of duty-free sugar from various sources such as Brazil, Zambia, Mauritius and South Africa.

According to the Sugar Directorate, the country consumes about one million tonnes of 850,000 tonnes of table sugar and 150,000 tonnes of industrial sugar.

For the last decade, the Privatisation Commission has been fast-tracking the sale of the State-owned millers with a view to enhancing their competitiveness.

Under the privatisation strategy approved by the National Assembly in 2015, the Commission’s intention was to seek strategic partners who would avail financial, technical and operational expertise in exchange for a 51 per cent stake in the firms.

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