Mumias Sugar loses Sh14 million as sugarcane razed in suspected arson

The miller has lost about 500 acres of sugarcane valued at more than Sh14 million. [Photo, Standard]

The Mumias Sugar Company's efforts to restart milling are likely to be hard hit by the burning down of the firm's sugarcane plantation.

The miller has lost about 500 acres of sugarcane valued at more than Sh14 million in six separate fires in the past two weeks.

The latest incident happened on Tuesday night when a fire razed down at least 10 acres of the plantation

The company said it was treating the fire as an act of sabotage by individuals who did not want the miller to restart operations.

"We have lost a lot of good sugarcane at the nucleus, which we direly need to resume operations," said the company's acting chief executive officer (CEO), Isaac Sheunda.

Police said they were still investigating the fires and that no arrests had been made.

"We have received complaints from the company and are following some leads," said Mumias OCPD Peter Kattam.

Last year, the miller temporarily halted operations because of what the management described as "acute cane shortage", which it blamed on poaching by rival firms.

Last month the firm started selling cane to other millers, claiming it did not have the capacity to crush it.

"We sold cane that was at our disposal so that we could get some seed money to start operations," said Mr Sheunda.

He has accused local politicians of trying to frustrate his work. 

The CEO said efforts to restart milling have also been derailed by contracted transporters who have refused to carry raw materials to the company until they are paid.

The transporters are owed Sh80 million and have vowed not to resume duty until the debt is settled.

The miller also owes cane farmers at least Sh700 million in cane deliveries, besides billions owed to suppliers and lenders.

Sheundu, who was a former security manager at the miller before running Sukari Sacco for more than nine years, took over the position in an acting capacity from Patrick Chebosi a month ago.

Observers have blamed the high turnover of the firm's CEOs on politics.

Cash cow

In 2017, Australian Errol Johnson quit the position and fled the country after claiming that the miller had become a cash cow for politicians and a source of disillusionment for farmers. 

Mr Errol was replaced by Nashon Aseka, who ran the company for a year before Mr Chebosi, a former agriculture manager and head of Kwale Sugar Industries, took charge in June 2018. 

Seven months later, Chebosi was sent on leave and replaced by Sheunda.

Last month, the firm announced plans to retrench 900 workers at a cost of Sh400 million to reduce its Sh40 million a month wage bill. 

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Isaac SheundaMumias Sugar Companysugarcane