Mixed reactions greet Omtatah and farmers' move to oppose zoning

 

Speaker Moses Wetangula and Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa lead delegates during a two-day sugar conference at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST). [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Some leaders from Western Kenya have joined farmers opposed to the zoning of sugar mills.

Busia Senator Okiya Omtatah, Malava Member of Parliament (MP) Malulu Injendi and former chairman of the defunct Kenya Sugar Board (KSB) Saul Busolo argued that introducing zoning will make rogue millers neglect and enslave the farmers.

Speaking during a two-day sugar conference at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) yesterday, the leaders termed zoning a critical issue that will deny farmers the freedom to sell their produce to a buyer of their choice.

“The issue of zoning is a hot one and I personally would not like to be tied to one sugar mill,” argued Injendi.

Mr Omtatah said that farmers should be allowed freedom to sell their raw materials to the company of their choice, and access to a free competitive market.

“Farmers have a right to own land and must have a right to decide where to sell their raw materials based on the contract the farmers have with various sugar factories,” said Omtatah.

“The idea of zoning and putting farmers in groups like co-operatives should not be allowed and the government should ensure farmers have an enabling environment to do their farming by regulating the sector and ensuring sugar millers assist growers to develop sugarcane and expand the acreage under the crop to make raw materials available for our factories,” he added.

National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula called for regulation of the sub-sector to ensure there is no poaching of cane.

“We want the venture to be regulated. We do not want a scenario where a certain miller poaches and harvests cane developed by another miller and yet that certain factory has invested a lot in ensuring farmers plant enough sugarcane,” said Wetang’ula.

Charles Atyang’, chairman of the Kenya Association of Sugarcane and Allied Products (Kasap) opposed zoning and urged the government to ensure millers empower farmers to grow more cane for the viability of the industry.

“We want a free and fair competitive market where farmers are given the right to sell raw materials to the factory of choice and based on how millers have helped farmers in growing their product. What we want is millers to help farmers achieve low costs of production by availing fertilizer, researching, conducting soil testing and investing in training,” he said.

However Michael Arum, chairman of Sugar for Campaign Change said he was disappointed with the sugar conference because the zoning of cane plantation dominated the conference and not the issue of cane productivity and low cost of production.

“We wanted to discuss how we can lower the cost of production and increase productivity for the betterment of our farmers and millers but we are discussing whether to introduce zoning or not. Zoning will not solve the productivity problem,” he said.

“Zoning will pin me down as a farmer because I will be subjected to a miller who does not consider my welfare as a farmer. We need a contract between the millers and farmers where we will have good pricing and favourable competition,” he added.

Steve Olenarupa, a farmer, faulted the organizers of the event which he claimed was hijacked by politicians and not real farmers.

“We were happy when our LREB Governors led by Fernandes Barasa organised this event to deliberate on issues affecting our sector, but it has been hijacked by politicians and we are appealing that farmers be allowed to give out real issues affecting the sector,” said Olenarupa.

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