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Quality-testing machines introduced to boost sugarcane production

By Kepher otieno | May 16th 2016

Sugar factories in Western Kenya have begun testing new machines that will see farmers paid on the quality of cane delivered to millers. The current system pays growers on the basis of the weight of cane delivered.

Sugar Directorate officials and farmers’ representative toured Sony and Nzoia sugar companies, which have been identified as the pilot testing centres, to establish the viability of the new sucrose-testing units, which cost Sh1.6 billion.

The equipment, procured from leading sugar-producing countries — Brazil, Germany and South Africa — is expected to help manage costs as the millers prepare to deal with competition from duty-free sugar from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. Current trade safeguards against these supplies end in February next year.

According to Kenya National Sugarcane Federation CEO Francis Waswa, farmers have had no choice but to accept the change in the payment system.

“Our attempt to block the move was fruitless as the Government moved fast to adopt the payment of cane based on sucrose content. So we will gauge the process over the next three months, looking at the correlations of cane paid through weighing and by sucrose,” he said.

Farmers had raised concerns that the sucrose-grading machines would reduce their earnings, but the Sugar Directorate assured them it had conducted its research and found payment based on sucrose is likely to boost earnings.

Sony Sugar Managing Director Jane Pamela welcomed the introduction of the machines, and promised to ensure they worked in farmers’ favour. “We will pay farmers on time to show them that the process is viable, feasible and lucrative,” she said.

Completed Construction

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority has completed construction of laboratories and civil works for the testing units in Sony and Nzoia sugar firms, with similar construction planned for millers Chemilil and Muhoroni.

Muhoroni Farmers Co-operative Union official Killion Osur said his members welcome the decision on sucrose-based payment, which was largely a matter of policy, but warned that any anomalies detected in incomes would not be tolerated.

“We want to reap maximum benefits from our produce,” he said.

Similar sentiments were echoed by cane farmers Dominic Apiyo and Odoyo Ogweno, who asked that they be protected from any exploitation by millers who are using more technical methods of production and payment.

“We want to ask our farmers to be patient and as soon as the first group who are involved in the pilot testing are paid, then they will laugh all the way to the bank after comparing their current and old cane payment statements,” said Sugar Directorate boss, Andrew Osodo.

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