Leaders, farmers decline to give views to sugar taskforce

Sugarcane farmers from Kwale County during last week’s protest over the closure of Kwale International Sugar Company Limited. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]

A month after it was formed on orders of President Uhuru Kenyatta to steer the revival of the dying sector, the 20-member committee co-chaired by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, is yet to table any findings. Its core mandate was to craft policy, propose reforms, unearth past, present and future challenges of the industry and table recommendations; relook the funding mechanism and cane pricing formula and propose new importation laws.

Extended tenure

It was to collate previous reports, including one presented to President Kenyatta by governors last year. The committee was then to invite sector experts to input their opinions, then visit the factories for assessment and consult leaders and sugar cane farmers.

Before its tenure was extended by an additional 60 days to enable it conduct a thorough inquiry into the industry, only consultations with local leaders and farmers was pending. The taskforce was to table its report for validation on January 25.

Whereas this meant the Sugar Reforms taskforce should have had a preliminary report by the time it called MPs, senators and governors from the sugar growing areas for a meeting in Kisumu on Tuesday, nothing had been patched up, stirring a heated debate on its commitment.

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Experts and legislators from the sugar growing zone expressed fears that just like “many others before it”, the taskforce risks becoming effort in futility and a conduit for wasting taxpayers’ money.

During the meeting, the taskforce was at pains to explain why it had called the leaders for consultation but did not have any paperwork to guide deliberations.

At one point, Senators Moses Kajwang (Homa Bay), Cleophas Malala (Kakamega), Fred Outa (Kisumu) and governors Wycliffe Wangamati (Bungoma) and Nandi’s Stephen Sang threatened to scuttle the meeting, saying it was a waste of time. Malala warned: “If the committee goes to farmers with same unpreparedness we have witnessed here, where we did not even have the programme, then expect to run into some trouble.” Sang said the committee, having had three weeks of sittings, should have highlighted the emerging issues “so that as we discuss, we have a sense of direction and something to build on.”

It was Navakholo MP Emmanuel Wangwe who kicked off the debate when he inquired on the status of the Sh2.7 billion cane farmers’ payment which was initially set for December, before it was postponed to January 15 by CS Kiunjuri.

Parallel taskforce

The meeting was called off and the national sugar reforms taskforce asked to suspend its planned meeting with sugarcane farmers until the money is paid.

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Oparanya was hard pressed to explain why the directive by President Kenyatta to pay farmers had not been effected three months on.

The MPs, senators and governors insisted that the immediate issue of payment be looked into before further consultations are held.

“We have agreed to suspend all consultations with leaders and other stakeholders until the farmers are paid,” Oparanya said after the meeting.

He said he had spoken to National Treasury CS Henry Rotich who had confirmed that Sh2.7 billion would be released and wired directly to farmers’ accounts by the Agriculture ministry before Friday.

Controversy surrounding the constitution of the taskforce – largely made up of government officials – has seen farmers form a parallel taskforce, citing lack of representation and lack of faith in the committee.

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President Uhuru KenyattaAgriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi KiunjuriKakamega Governor Wycliffe OparanyaSugar ReformsMoses KajwangNational Treasury CS Henry Rotichsugar growing zone