Simon Odhiambo bends over to tend his maize crop in Koru, Kisumu County.
The mid-day heat is having its toll on the 38-year-old father of four. He stops every now and then to wipe off the sweat on his forehead with the back of his hand.
The determination written all over his face is palpable – the resolve to finish the work before the end of day, even as the lowly hanging dark clouds show an impending downpour.
All the signs that this would be a good season are evident in the dark green leaves of the maize crop. The weather has been good with plenty of rainfall lately and the farmer expects a good harvest.
“Last season was a disaster and all I got from my three acres was two bags of maize,” he says. “This time round if the good weather holds I expect at least 25 bags.”
Yet five years ago, Odhiambo was an ardent sugarcane farmer with more than 15 hectares of the crop to his name. But he dropped the industry like a hot potato when the returns started dwindling after Muhoroni Sugar Company took too long to harvest the cane – and even longer to pay for cane proceeds.
“Growing sugarcane was not a profitable venture anymore and I could no longer rely on the industry to feed and educate my children. I had to find alternatives,” he says.
However, there is no doubt in his mind sugarcane would afford him better returns if a conducive environment to grow the crop was put in place. The move by the Government to write debts for the industry in this year’s budget speech may have sounded like sweet music in the ears of famers like Odhiambo.
The Government has allocated Sh1.5 billion to write-off farmers’ debts in the sugar, rice and coffee sectors. Finance Minister Njeru Githae said farmers across the country are overburdened by debts, arising from past mismanagement of production and marketing institutions.
Agriculture remains Kenya’s single largest sector contributing 24 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But the farmers cannot begin to celebrate already after it emerged the write-off could be a drop in the ocean – or worse still, a token political gesture. Indeed the Kenya Sugar Board (KSB) wrote to the Treasury last week seeking to know how the write-off will work.