Governors from counties in the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB) are pushing for the reintroduction of the Kenya Sugar Board and revitalisation of farming in the region.
During their first-ever sugar conference in Kakamega, host governor Fernandes Barasa said one of the issues to be addressed is delinking the sector from the Agricultural Food Authority (AFA).
Currently, all crops are amalgamated under AFA in the ministry of Agriculture.
“We intend to address many issues affecting the viability and revitalisation of the sugar sector to see whether we can delink the sugar board from AFA so that the sector can be managed properly with an aim of reviving the venture for the growth of region’s economy, “said Barasa.
The two-day conference at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology will see 2,500 delegates including farmers and stakeholders from the sector and policy makers attend.
Farmers argue that the money coming from sugarcane faming has benefited other crops, mentioning how coffee and tea have their own boards managing the affairs of the venture and fighting for the welfare of their farmers.
They say that the sugar development levy has done little and farmers and millers have been left on their own under the management of AFA to carry out research on soil suitability and seed cane, among other issues.
Barasa said 15 governors from the LREB region and Kwale’s Fatuma Achani have confirmed their attendance.
Other key issues expected to be discussed at the function are financing of factories and debt management.
“Our President has shown commitment and alluded to writing off Sh117bilion debt owned by state-owned sugarcane factories in the country and some loans advanced to the sugar millers, therefore, I want to urge our farmers to come out because we are optimistic of finding long-lasting solutions on the issues that have been affecting the sector,” said Barasa.
National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula and Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi will grace the opening session while Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi will close the conference on Saturday.
Kakamega Deputy Governor Ayub Savula said the conference will have a special occasion with the major focus being on how to revive the Mumias Sugar and strategising on cane farming.
“We are keen on ensuring how we are going to make Mumias work against besides writing off debts because we want to make sure the investors that will be in charge of the factory focus on cane plantation in supporting farmers to plant enough raw materials for the operation of the factory,” said Savula.
“The issue of Mumias and its collapse is because the company does not have enough cane for crushing and farmers fear going back to the venture because it is not profitable, we want to see how we can bring back the Mumias out-growers association.”
Savula said they are in support of President William Ruto’s decision to deal with cartels in the sector.
“We have to deal with the cartels issue because as we speak some cases that were filed in court have been withdrawn and we are supporting the President on sorting out the wrangles be it management or cartels we are behind him and there is nothing like threatening investors in sorting out the mess in the sector,” said Savula.
LREB region brings together governor James Orengo, Anyang’ Nyong’o, Ken Lusaka, George Natembeya, Paul Otuoma, and Wilber Ottichilo.
Other governors expected to attend include Stephen Sang, Ochilo Ayacko, Prof Hillary Barchok, Gladys Wanga, Simba Arati, Amos Nyaribo, and Dr Erick Mutai.
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.