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Mumias sugar company set to resume operations

Some of the Mumias Sugar Company's cane crushing machines to be renovated. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

The debt-ridden Mumias Sugar Company is expected to resume sugar production in about two months despite the myriad of challenges it faces.

Sarrai Group which has leased assets of the once giant company has been conducting test runs of the mills and fixing worn-out parts including leaking pipes.

“We embarked on the rehabilitation and maintenance of the run-down equipment two months ago and almost 80 per cent of the work is done. We have also started buying raw material from local farmers at Sh4,562 per tonne as part of our preparations to resume sugar production,” said Stephen Kihumba, the operations manager at Sarrai Group.

The management has also bought 100 tractors and trailers that will be used for land preparation and improving cane delivery within the expansive Mumias sugar zone that extends to Bungoma, Busia, and Siaya counties according to Kihumba. The tractors and trailer cost the firm Sh500 million.

“We have also embarked on an ambitious cane development project that will see us cover 1,000 acres per month. It is a costly venture because production cost per acre has shot up from about Sh60,000 to about Sh100,000.”

Mumias Sugar Company has an 8,700-acre nucleus estate. “We have been able to plant sugarcane on 300 acres of the nucleus estate and we are in the process of ploughing the rest of the land,” said Kihumba.

He said they will be sourcing certified early maturing seed cane from Sugar Research Institute in Kisumu which has developed different varieties recommended for farmers in Western Kenya.

The factory was a hive of activity on Wednesday with workers busy identifying faulty equipment and replacing worn-out components.

Kihumba confirmed that the issue of electricity has been addressed. “Clearly, we are making baby steps in reclaiming Mumias Sugar Company's lost glory. We want to make sure that all set-out parameters are met including the acquisition of requisite licenses from the county government and the National Environment Management Authority among others,” said Kihumba.

Sarrai Group had disclosed that 99 per cent of the company's former employees have been retained. “They are helping us identify some of the challenges which we area gradually addressing as we move closer to attaining our target of reviving the sugar miller,” said Kihumba.

Although the sugar firm has not been able to produce any sugar, Kihumba said Kenyans should expect the leading brand back on the shelves in the coming weeks.

“Mumias sugar was a big brand. We don’t want to take shortcuts and give people a poor-quality product. It is a gradual process that will give desired results.”

The management of Sarrai Group confessed that court cases have also disrupted their plans. “But we are confident they (courts) will see our determination and resolve to revive Mumias sugar. We respect the courts,” Kihumba told The Standard at the factory precincts on Tuesday.

Kihumba said they have started reaching out to farmers and encouraging them to grow sugarcane. “Many of them are willing to revert to the cash crop but all they want is an assurance about the market for their crop and prompt payment.”

The management is also worried about the cane poaching menace which could negate its cane development plan.  “We shall work closely with farmers and ensure they supply us with raw materials.”

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya who toured the factory on Tuesday said he was satisfied with the progress made towards the revival of the sugar miller.