Debt forgiveness for sugar mills will top agenda at summit

Tractors in a queue to deliver sugarcane to Chemelil Sugar Company along the Nandi and Kisumu border. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Governors from Western Kenya and key figures in the sugar industry will meet in Kakamega for a two-day sugar conference.

Host Governor Fernandes Barasa has organised this event, set to run from Friday to Saturday, to tackle issues in the sugar sector and address farmers' challenges.

The conference, whose theme is 'Revitalization of the Sugar Sector in Kenya' will take place at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology.

"We expect 15 county chiefs from the lake region and one from the Coast because we have brought Kwale on board since the county also grows sugarcane,” said Mr Barasa.

He continued, "Preparations are in top gear and National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula will open the conference on Friday while Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi will close the event on Saturday."

The conference has received the blessings of President William Ruto, who indicated that top government officials will attend the event.

"We expect Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung'u and his Agriculture counterpart Mithika Linturi to join the participants during the meeting seeking to address a raft of issues, including cane development, the plight of farmers, pricing regime, and best management model of the industry, among others.

"We also have legacy issues to be discussed, and we have invited employees of sugar factories, farmers, and unions representing both workers and farmers to share their experiences,” Barasa told The Standard yesterday.

Other topics on the agenda include sugar factory financing and debt management.

"President Ruto had alluded to writing off Sh117 billion debt owed by the State-owned sugar factories. However, some of the debts are loans that were advanced to the sugar millers, for example, French firm Proparco that is owed by Mumias Sugar,” Barasa said.

The factories targeted for debt relief are Muhoroni, Nzoia, Sony, Chemilili, Miwani and Mumias.

Barasa said experts have been invited to offer their insights and leadership because the conference aims to produce recommendations to be presented to the president.

The governor said lawmakers from sugarcane-growing zones have also been invited. "We have a Sugar Bill going through the second reading stage in Parliament. The lawmakers will play a critical role during discussions on the legal and regulatory framework."

As of Wednesday, six governors, including James Orengo, Anyang’ Nyong’o, Ken Lusaka, George Natembeya, Paul Otuoma, and Wilber Ottichilo, had confirmed their attendance.

Other governors expected to attend include Stephen Sang, Ochilo Ayacko, Prof Hillary Barchok, Gladys Wanga, Simba Arati, Amos Nyaribo, and Dr Erick Mutai.

"I would like to tell our farmers not to panic because there is light at the end of the tunnel. Whatever we have enjoyed in the last 20 years will come back," said Barasa.

During his five-day tour of western Kenya, Ruto pledged to bail out Mumias Sugar company.

The Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers insists that the conference should advocate for the revival of the Kenya Sugar Board and a ban on sugar imports.

The federation's National Deputy Secretary General Simon Weschere said there is need for substantial investment in sugarcane research institutes to ensure farmers have access to disease-resistant, pest-resistant, and early-maturing seed cane.

Lurambi MP Titus Khamala welcomed the conference but demanded that only genuine farmers should have the opportunity to voice their concerns, as they are most familiar with the issues plaguing the sector.

[Benard Lusigi, Jackline Inyanji and Mary Imenza]

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