CS's proposal causes jitters in sugarcane-growing region
Cane growers oppose plan to import sugar
Agriculture ministry is suggesting factories should be allowed to ship in and re-package the product
Sugarcane growers from Western Kenya have opposed plans to allow millers to import and re-brand sugar.
The farmers drawn from Kakamega, Busia, Bungoma and parts of Siaya counties fear that such a move will deal the ailing sugar industry a major blow.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett had earlier indicated that millers, particularly those experiencing cane shortages, could be given the green light to import and sell re-branded sugar locally to remain in operation.
The imports are expected to help cancel a deficit in production by 400,000 tonnes.
Mr Bett, who spoke in Mumias on Monday, regretted that several sugar factories, especially State-owned, had been starved of raw materials and faced closure.
But the growers, through the Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers (KNFSF), are instead rooting for a sustainable approach to deal with the shortage of sugarcane.
"If the millers are given the leeway to import rather than manufacture sugar, they could end up moving from their core business of crushing cane," argued KNFSF Deputy Secretary General Simon Wesechere.
He said cheap imports were partly to blame for the sorry state of the country's sugar industry.
"We cannot afford to make matters worse by giving millers authority to source cheap imports," he said.
Mr Wesechere said the reasons given by the CS to warrant the imports were not satisfactory, adding that the federation was ready to go to court to challenge the plan.
The farmers are now questioning the Government's commitment to reviving the sugar industry..
"Most of us who had uprooted the cash crop had begun trooping back due to rising prices, which hit Sh4,200 last month. We were taken aback by Bett's announcement," said Bilhah Mukoya, a farmer from Navakholo.
Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) officials were reluctant to comment on the matter.
"You could talk to Solomon Odera," said AFA Director General Alfred Busolo when contacted by The Standard yesterday.
But Mr Odera, an official at the authority, could not be reached.
Earlier, Mumias Sugar Company CEO Nashon Aseka, board chairman Kennedy Mulwa and Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali welcomed the proposal, saying it would go a long way in helping the firm recover from financial shock.
The firm shut down operations in April following a shortage of cane and wants to be allowed to ship in at least 300,000 tonnes of sugar to help generate income and sustain operations.