Government promises to end sugar woes, rules out privatization of sugar factories

Chairman Board of AFA (right)CS Agriculture& Livestock Development Mithika Linturi, DG AFA Beatrice Nyamwamu, Deputy DG CROPS DR Felister Makini during a consultative meeting held with MPs from the sugar belt region on improving the competitiveness of the state-owned mills at KARLO headquarters Nairobi. May 4, 2023. [Silas Otieno, Standard]

The government has denounced any plans to privatize the sugar companies, despite the many challenges facing the sugar sub sector.

Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture and Livestock, Mithika Linturi, said there are better ways to deal with the ailing sugar industry and return it to profitability, and that time has come.

He explained that the government is committed to ensuring sugar millers are back into full business, producing enough sugar and also benefiting the farmers.

Linturi said that those behind the privatization have hidden agendas. “We are not going to privatize sugar millers. There is no privatization going to take place. In fact, those people spearheading the privatization process are interested in grabbing land around the canes. We are here to protect public property,” he says.

Linturi was speaking when he met Members of Parliament from the sugar belt region for a consultative meeting on improving the competitiveness of the state owned sugar mills.

He said that the aim of the meeting with the MPs was to consult on how to restore the sugar industry.

Linturi said the government is committed to making sure millers produce enough sugar since the country is experiencing sugar shortage.

The CS said there are enough farmers willing to go back and invest in farming cane farming.

“All we need is time, to consult with leaders from sugar farming region and we will give you the model which we want to apply in commercializing those sugar factories and make sure farmers get good prices for their canes,” he said.

The MPs had raised myriad of issues that have been affecting the sugar industry, among them, is the illegal importation of sugar. They said this was killing the local millers.

Muhoroni MP Onyango Koyoo said that since resuming operations, Mumias Sugar Company production is very little.

“Mumias has been producing little sugar, but the market is full of sugar. That is the work of illegal importers, who bring sugar from outside, repackage and sell, at the expense of local millers,” Koyoo said.

Dan Wanyama, MP for Webuye called on the government to isolate the sugar industry from other crops just as is the case with coffer.

“That is the only way, the sugar industry will be streamlined. There is also need to bring back the sugar board,” he says.

Nominated MP Nabii Nabwera, who was Secretary General of the Sugar Task Force Report revealed that the report had raised eight fundamental issues that the government needed to act upon, to revive ailing sugar industry.

Nabii mentioned report finding on funding of the farmers, canes that took long before maturity and the poor relationship between the farmers. He also mentioned the farmers felt that millers were benefiting more from the industry and also the use of outdated milling machines.

After deliberations, Nabii explained that as MPs from regions producing sugar, agreed that the CS look at the report first, before deciding on the sections that need immediate interventions.

“Let the Minister look at the report that involved all the stakeholders in the sugar sector and after that, he should choose areas we should start working on immediately. Another meeting will be held in the next 14 days,” says Nabii.

Nabii said they have agreed to follow a negotiated direction between the stakeholders and the government.

He said Linturi should also look at the Sugar bill in Parliament. "We have also agreed that he will quickly relook at the bill that is in Second Reading in Parliament being sponsored by Emmanuel Wangwe, Nabakholo MP and from there, we again have a meeting of minds before we move it forward,” said Nabii.

Linturi explained that the government is committed to implementing the report. “They are telling me that whatever was discussed by the people, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There is a report that was done and l am committing to implement that report that will sort out the problem. I want to go and starting looking at the report and compiling ideas,” he said.

Linturi explained that sugar imported was due to shortage. “First my interest is to safeguard farmers, and l also have a duty as a Minister to ensure that people have food. And for that matter, any sure importation that was done by me or authorized by my Ministry was on the basis of shortage.”

Linturi added that in future, if there will be any need to authorize importation of sugar, they will do without hurting farmers, and it will be based on factual statistics that warrant that importation.

The MPs also raised the issue of private millers who import sugar, repackage and sell. Linturi said that was criminal activity that should stop immediately.

“That is a regulation issue and since it has been brought to our attention, we will move with speed and ensure this doesn’t happen again, because it is illegal and its also criminal,” he says.

Titus Khamala, MP for Lurambi called on the government to invest in research and come up with early maturing canes. Khamala regrets that the industry still plants old varieties that take more than 18 months to mature.

The CS warned of farmers who harvest cane before they mature because at this stage, the sugar content is very low and there is no profit in them.

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