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Mumias revival excites many, but some cane farmers still skeptical

Mumias Sugar company operation Manager Stephen Kihumba (right) takes around Anglican Church Of Kenya Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, ACK Mumias Diocese Bishop Joseph Wandere when they visited the company to dedicate it to God on October 24, 2022. [Benjamin Sakwa,  Standard]

Duncan Ojomo from Butere, Kakamega County, is busy preparing his four-acre farm in readiness to plant sugarcane.

He is among the farmers from the expansive Mumias sugar zone, who had abandoned the cash crop about 10 years ago due to its dwindling fortunes.

But, with intensified plans to revive Mumias Sugar Company, the farmers have changed their minds. They are now sure they have a market for their produce. “I have been contemplating switching to growing trees but ongoing plans to revive the sugar miller made me change my mind. The Uganda-based Sarrai Group has made huge strides towards reclaiming the factory’s lost glory,” says Ojomo.

The Wanga Elders Council has been creating awareness among the farmers and encouraging them to revert to cane farming.

Led by former chairman of the defunct Kenya Sugar Board (KSB) Julius Nyarotso, the Council is satisfied with ongoing rehabilitation works at Mumias sugar. “We are targeting farmers who uprooted sugarcane, we urged them to revert to cane production because the factory will soon resume operations,” said Nyarotso.

But Elizabeth Wanyama, who used to cultivate sugarcane on a two-acre land in Navakholo sub-county, says she will not revert to cane farming any time soon after suffering huge losses when her crop dried up on the farm.

“After incurring huge losses, I will not rush into sugarcane farming again, I have restored to growing food crops and vegetables on my farm,” she said.

Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa and his deputy Ayub Savula have been at the forefront of encouraging farmers to embrace sugarcane farming again. With an installed crushing capacity of 8,000 tons of cane per day, Mumias sugar requires a stable supply of raw materials, according to Mr Barasa. 

“I will ensure farmers are paid promptly for cane deliveries,” said the Governor.  So far, Mumias Sugar company has already started buying sugarcane from farmers at Sh4,585 per tonne, which is payable every week.

Kakamega North-based West Kenya and Butali sugar factories have now raised their prices to  Sh4,584 per tonne. “We are happy because the Cane Pricing Committee (CPC) has been regulating the prices, a move that has helped cushion farmers from exploitation,” said Butali Sugarcane Farmers Association Chairman William Kopi.

The new management has been sourcing certified seed cane from research institutions that will be supplied to farmers Sarrai Group, which won a 20-year-lease to revive the debt-ridden sugar company has spent huge sums of money in rehabilitating the factory, purchase of a new fleet of tractors, and hiring workers.

The firm’s operations manager Stephen Kihumba said they have a structured plan to engage and help farmers revert to sugarcane farming.

“We urge politicians to help us create awareness among farmers over matters of registration and policy and encourage them to plant sugarcane,” said Kihumba.

Currently, the factory is able to mill between 1,500 to 2,000 metric tonness of cane per day, but this is set to increase significantly once cane supplies increase, according to Kihumba.

“This is just a third of what is required to be processed per day but we are engaging more farmers so that we can gradually increase the supply of raw materials.” 

So far, the management has planted sugarcane on the factory’s 8,000 acres nucleus estate to complement supplies from out-grower farms.

Mr Kihumba indicated production and packaging of sugar are ongoing “and the products will hit the market next week.” He added that they have started packaging sugar in one and two-kilogramme packets. “The factory price for the 50kg bag of our sugar is Sh7,000. I want to assure the farmers that the company needs more cane, and we will be buying their cane directly to ensure they make profits.”

Kenya National Sugarcane Federation of Sugarcane Farmers Deputy Secretary want cheap imports that find their way into the local market, cane poaching menace, corruption and sugar politics dealt with.

“We also require modern factory technology through fresh injection of capital particularly for struggling state-owned sugar mills, some of which have closed shop,” said Wesechere.