Stalled Pineapple processing plant leaves farmers down and out

Robert Rono, at his three-acre pineapple farm in Bureti constituency, Kericho County. [Nikko Tanui, Standard]
In 2004, Robert Rono had 15 acres of pineapples, making him one of the largest farmers of the fruit in Kericho.

In one season, the former district education officer could harvest at least 6,000 pieces of pineapples from the farm.

Mr Rono, 69, a resident of Roret in Bureti constituency, had embraced the cash crop in anticipation of reaping huge profits through sales to the Roret pineapple processing plant.

But then the much-hyped factory failed to take off, dashing the dreams of at least 10,000 farmers from Bureti constituency alone.

Over 1,860 hectares of land are under pineapples in the sub-county, with only 70 hectares outside Roret division.

Rono, for instance, has since reduced the acreage under pineapples to three acres.

“I now pick about 1,000 pieces of pineapple per month. I sell the fruits at the farm and have to contend with the gate prices, which sometimes are as low as Sh10 for a big pineapple,” he said.

Agnes Kimetto, who hawks pineapples at the Ngoino road junction along the Kericho-Litein highway, is also unhappy over the stalled factory.

“It is only by God’s grace I haven’t been knocked down by vehicles as I rush about trying to sell the fruits to passengers and motorist in the area. Working under the scorching sun also always leaves me with a throbbing headache,” she said.

Scorching sun

A visit to the proposed factory located three kilometres from Roret trading centre reveals some of the Sh60 million juice-processing machines donated by Deputy President William Ruto rusting away under the scorching sun.

The equipment was Ruto’s gift to Kericho residents in 2016 for backing the Jubilee Party during that year’s senatorial by-election, a vacancy created following the appointment of Senator Charles Keter to the Cabinet.

Kisiara Ward Representative Gilbert Ngetich said he had held consultations with governor Paul Chepkwony and been informed that that Sh11 million had been allocated to the factory for its completion.

“We are yet to see any works being done. The situation is worrisome since some of the manholes dug at the factory are death traps especially for children at the nearby Monoru Primary School,” said Mr Ngetich.

Mr Chepkwony, however, said a redesign of the factory buildings was required for the machinery to fit inside.

“The architectural design of the factory is the reason. When the machinery was delivered to the site, it could not fit inside the factory,” he said.

Auditor-General Edward Ouko, in his report for the 2016/2017 financial year, indicted the county executive over the stalled project.

Contractor paid

He observed that waste-water works at that plant were awarded to a construction company at the cost of Sh7,140,522, adding that to date, Sh2,356,372 had been paid to the contractor and 33 per cent of the works certified as complete.

“However, an audit inspection carried out on the project revealed that works were not complete and the contractor was not on site. The contract has run for three years and has stalled, and is unlikely to be completed soon,” said Mr Ouko.

Kenya Industrial Estates director Lucas Kirui said the county government must “demonstrate an appreciation for the DP’s gift” by ensuring the juice factory is completed.

“The county government must also play its role in the industrialisation of the county by providing funds for the installation of the machinery. There is no reason why the machinery should lie idle,” said Mr Kirui.

County Assembly Speaker Dominic Rono and Leader of Majority Hezron Kipngeno Ngetich warned that the assembly would begin sanctioning county executive committee (CECs) members and chief officers over stalled projects.

“We are going to take appropriate actions envisioned in the county assembly Standing Orders and the County Governments Act,” said Mr Rono.

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