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Blame game emerges as sugarcane zones conflict in western Kenya turns violent

By Titus Oteba | August 21st 2016
Mumias Sugar Company. Barely 10 days ago, over 20 Mumias Sugar Company tractor drivers were attacked and injured by farmers for allegedly stealing Nzoia Sugar Company cane in ongoing rivalry battles. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

Fierce competition for mature cane in Western is turning ugly as rival millers and farmers are caught up in violent confrontations.

Barely 10 days ago, over 20 Mumias Sugar Company tractor drivers were attacked and injured by farmers for allegedly stealing Nzoia Sugar Company cane.

Drivers are now going to collect cane in the company of armed police in parts of Kimugui, Mechimeru, Dorofu, Kimatuni, Kanduyi and Bumula areas.

It emerged that some of the farmers who attacked the drivers are actually contracted to Mumias and were incensed by the fact that they are being by-passed as cane is sourced from Nzoia. Speaking during a demonstration at Harambee market on Wednesday, some farmers further said Mumias promptly pays farmers sourced from Nzoia zone and keeps them waiting yet they are contracted and even closer to the miller.

The attack and subsequent demonstrations came as Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett, who toured the region, asked millers to develop their own cane to reduce cases of cane poaching.

Mr Bett noted that cane poaching was as a result of millers going directly to farmers instead of contracting them. He said millers needed a contract with farmers and a specific schedule on how cane should be harvested.

Both Mumias and Nzoia however insist they are not involved in cane poaching. Mumias Sugar Company public relations officer Moses Owino said they are actually using armed police officers because of previous incidences where they were attacked by farmers from Nzoia.

“When we want to harvest our cane we are attacked and our tractors burnt. We are harvesting our cane and not stealing Nzoia’s developed cane,” said Mr Owino.

But Nzoia’s board chairman Joash Wamang’oli dismissed the claims by Owino as wild. He accused Mumias Sugar management of keeping silent instead of addressing the poaching problems. “Mumias and other private millers are invading our territory and stealing our cane; we invested heavily to get sugarcane and we cannot allow other people to steal it,” he said.

Mumias has indicated that it has embarked on an ambitious sugar development project that involves out grower farmers who account for over 90 per cent of total cane deliveries at the factory. The fighting comes barely three months after Nzoia and Mumias moved to bolster operations through Inter Mills Cane Transfer agreement. The pact was to see Mumias harvest well over 700,000 metric tons of cane from Nzoia sugar zone.

Meanwhile, the government has issued a stern warning to sugar factories in Western embroiled in cane poaching disputes. “I have asked the sub-county security committee to hold discussions with interested players including farmers and the management of Mumias Sugar Company in order to resolve the matter urgently,” Thuku told a public baraza in Mumias town.

Yesterday, Kakamega County Commissioner Kang’ethe Thuku directed security personnel in the area to arrest the culprits in order to quell the vice that has impacted negatively on performance of local factories.

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