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Farmers in Kenya uproot sugarcane over dwindling fortunes

COUNTIES
By Alex Wakhisi and Jackline Inyanji | Aug 24th 2015 | 3 min read
Licoln Olunga inspects his farm. Farmers contracted by Mumias Sugar Company will now get their pay after the new CEO Errol Johnston released Sh270 million. [PHOTO: BENJAMIN SAKWA/STANDARD]

KAKAMEGA: Sugar-cane farming in western region is slowly dying due to a myriad of challenges affecting the sector.

The fortunes of the once-flourishing industry have been diminishing with each passing day, making the farmers to uproot the cane and opt for other crops. The slow death of cane farming is being attributed to poor yields, poor payment, late maturity of cane and political interference.

For farmers, Debit Recurred (DR), which implies the farmers have to pay the miller, has forced them to uproot their cane.

“How can I work without pay? Mumias has paralysed farmers because after 18 months of cane being in your farm, you are told to pay the company because you got a debit recurred to the company,” said Lubesia Komesa, a cane farmer in Butere who has started uprooting the crop.

He says cane farming has lost its profitability and he has been forced by circumstances to uproot it and go for other crops.

Eunice Ambundo lost her husband last year reportedly due to shock; when he realised that after harvesting 32 stacks of cane from his farm, he being was asked to pay the company.

Ms Ambundo said cane farming had subjected her and the family to psychological torture and suffering.

“My husband died of shock when he was told to pay the company. This cannot happen after harvesting 32 stacks. Sugar millers should be serious and must address the challenges they push to farmers,” said  Ambundo.

BLOOD PRESSURE

It is not only Eunice who lost her husband. Grace Ashianga from Shisisia village also said her father succumbed to high blood pressure after getting a DR.

“We plant cane on our four-and-a-half acres, and the highest amount we have received is Sh100,000. After the last harvest we got a DR. It was painful that it claimed the life of my father,” said Ms Ashianga.

Poor payments by millers have seen many other farmers quit the crop to venture into crops that give better returns.

“I ventured into cane farming in 2000 when a good harvest would fetch Sh4,000 per tonne, giving an earning of over Sh80,000, before it dwindled to Sh2,800, and is getting worse,” said Daniel Mmang’ale of Handidi village, Kakamega County.

He has given up and now prides in growing bananas, maize, vegetables and keeping livestock.

“Cane farming has been a challenge, especially on pricing and getting a permit. It is better to venture into crops that take shorter to mature and get profit. You can take cane as a meal but it overstays on the farm and when children consume it, they say it is a pipe,” he said.

However, it is not only poor payment that is causing the slow death of sugar-cane farming in the region.

The increasingly reduced land size under cane due to population surge, poor farming methods and the cost of production are also to blame.

“The size of land under cane has reduced due to population increase. People are growing cane on small sizes of land compared to the past where a chunk of it was under cane. This has led to low production,” said Navakholo MP Emmanuel Wangwe.

He also blamed farmers’ woes on the worn-out company machinery, which causes low production of sucrose per tonne.

“In Brazil and Sudan, 15 tonnes of cane produce one tonne of processed sugar, but in Kenya one tonne is produced after crushing 35 tonnes of cane. In Kenya, the cane takes 18 months to mature but in other countries like Brazil it takes six months because of altitude,” he said.

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