To Zone or not to Zone: Fresh controversy pushes sugar industry deeper into the brink

Mode of transporting cane to some of sugar firms in Western hinders other road users. [Benjamin Sakwa/Standard]
Farmers have disagreed over the recently gazetted regulations meant to revive the sugar industry.

One group, led by the Kenya Federation of Sugarcane Farmers' Deputy Secretary General Atyang’ Atiang’ and said to represent farmers from the Nyando area, has opposed zoning of sugar belts. The measure is meant to stop the scramble for raw materials.

The group claimed that farmers' views were ignored.

In a petition to the Ministry of Agriculture on Friday last week, the group said the new policy that was gazetted on August 7 should be amended to accommodate farmers' input before it took effect.

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Remove clauses

Mr Atiang’, who was accompanied by representatives of farmers from Nandi, Kisumu and Kericho, demanded that the clauses creating sugarcane command zones and restricting establishment of new millers be removed. They also opposed the re-introduction of the sugar development levy.

"Farmers were not fully involved in drafting the regulations and unless the issues we have raised are addressed, we will not accept the document," Atiang’ said.

Creation of sugarcane zones is aimed at binding contracted and private cane farmers in specific areas to specific millers.

Atiang’ and his team said the proposal was not in line with liberalised economies.

"We are opposing this clause because it will infringe on the rights of farmers to enjoy freedom of developing, marinating and selling their produce to millers of their choice,” reads the petition.

However, shortly after Atiang’ and his team left Kilimo House in Nairobi, another group led by Ezekiel Nyambok and Bernard Juma walked in and presented a petition in support of zoning.

The petition of the group said to have the support of business people from Miwani, Chemelil, Muhoroni, Kopere and Ndhiwa demanded that the document be enforced in its current form.

“We fully support the regulations with very minimal amendments, if any,” the petition said.

Zoning, they said, would help State millers get access to raw materials. "This way, the public sugar companies will be able to pay hundreds of millions owed to farmers, suppliers and the taxman."

The petition adds: “Those opposed to the regulations have been sponsored by the private millers to frustrate the State-owned millers. This is because private millers do not want to invest in cane development. They are using sugarcane developed by public millers and this is threatening their survival,” said Mr Nyambok.

Solidly behind

Muhoroni MP Onyango K'Oyoo said legislators from the western Kenya region were 'solidly' behind the new regulations.

He said the Government's plan to revive State-owned millers was on course.

On Sunday, Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati urged the Government to implement the policy.

Former Kakamega senator Boni Khalwale opposed the reintroduction of zoning, which he argued would hurt private millers.

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