Sugarcane farmers blame woes on Agriculture and Food Authority

Farmers line up to sell their sugarcane at the Ekerorano market in Kisii County. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Sugarcane farmers have expressed their frustrations with the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA), accusing it of allegedly siding with cartels to exploit them.

The farmers cited the recent announcement by the interim Sugarcane Pricing Committee that reduced sugarcane buying prices to Sh5,100 from Sh6,050 per tonne.

The farmers thanked the High Court Judge Eric Ogola for stopping the AFA and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) from increasing sugarcane prices and importing more sugar.

Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers Secretary General Simon Wesechere, lamented that fluctuating cane prices often lead farmers to incur losses and accused AFA of not working in the best interest of farmers.

“It is clear that AFA is working for sugar barons and not farmers because it is only the sugar sector where there are price fluctuates more than any other crop, giving a leeway for cartels to import sugar. We want to thank our courts for being our last line of defence when we are being oppressed,” said Wesechere.

“Sometimes you spend up to Sh 5,900, or even more, to produce a tonne of sugar, yet you have waited over a year for it to mature. This remains the key reason many farmers abandoned the crop, forcing factories to shut down for four months due to cane shortage last year," he added.

He regretted that current cane prices were determined unilaterally based on a formula that primarily considers the sugar price on shelves, overlooking other by-products such as molasses, ethanol, and co-generated electricity, which millers profit from.

“I understand that the (Sugar) Bill before the Senate seeks to enforce similar reasoning so that we get some value for our hard work on the farms on the crop. If it fails, then the sub-sector will return to the cartels whose main aim is to suppress farmers’ productivity so they can thrive on imports,” he said.

Weschere alleged that some millers are paying farmers Sh5,100 per tonne despite court orders, besides farmers being taxed Sh200 per tonne under the Electronic Tax Invoicing Management System (e-TIMS).

Lurambi MP Titus Khamala, who is a sugarcane farmer, said the recent court ruling barring sugar imports is a boost to farmers and signals renewed efforts to support domestic production.

Speaking to The Standard on his farm, Khamala claimed that AFA is a major obstacle to prosperity of the sector, citing ineffective policies and insufficient support for local producers.

“Today's ruling is a step in the right direction for our sugarcane farmers. However, we cannot overlook the systemic challenges plaguing our agricultural sector, particularly the shortcomings of the Agriculture and Food Authority,” he said.

The legislator warned over the adverse effects of sugar importation and emphasised the importance of safeguarding the interests of local farmers and promoting self-sufficiency in sugar production.

He called for comprehensive reforms within the AFA to streamline processes, enhance support mechanisms, and create a conducive environment for agricultural growth.

“The court's decision underscores the need for a holistic approach to revitalising our sugar industry. We must address the root causes of our farmers' struggles and empower them to compete on a level playing field,” he said.

Nanjedo Bushuru, a farmer from Butere, urged AFA to consult farmers before reducing or increasing the price of cane per tonne.

“Sugarcane is different from other crops. It takes almost two years to mature, and farmers incur a lot of expenses. AFA should first factor in all the expenses of farmers before coming up with a figure, but the price should resonate with the input of farmers,” said Nanjendo.

The farmer urged the government to reconsider tax policies on the sugarcane sector.

“We want the government to concentrate more on cane development than any forms of taxation like e-TIMS. We need the sector to grow like tea, avocado, and coffee sector,” said Nanjedo.

William Kopi from the Butali Sugarcane Farmers Association said more than 40,000 members had anticipated a price revision upwards, not downwards.

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