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Why sugarcane farmers want community trustees to manage nuclear estates

By Kevine Omollo | June 22nd 2020

Sugarcane farmers have proposed the formation of Community Trustee Organisations to manage nuclear estates for State sugar millers.

This follows the latest proposals by the Ministry of Agriculture, which would see the millers leased to private investors as opposed to complete disposal which had earlier been mooted through the Privatisation Commission.

Yesterday, Kenya National Alliance of Sugarcane Farmers Organisations (KNASFO) came up with a new proposal for the formation of the trustees, which it says would ensure the local communities are not left out in the future management of the sugar sector.

In the new proposals to revitalise the sugar millers, the government has gazetted new regulations that would see the millers leased to private investors.

The private investors, apart from taking over the millers, are also expected to own the thousands of acres of nuclear estates attached to the various millers.

However, farmers now claim that many of the millers were put up on community lands which were not compensated, meaning the tracks of land still belong to those communities.

Speaking in Kisumu yesterday, KNASFO chairman Saulo Busolo said they were already working on modalities of coming up with community trustees.

Busolo said the trustees will be representing the interests of the communities to safeguard the nuclear estates, which they still consider theirs. The proposals will also declare the nuclear estates as protected areas, hence preventing any transfers of land to any entity.

“Many communities were alienated from their land to create room for the putting up of the millers. They were not compensated but instead promised material benefits such as job opportunities,” said Busolo.

Richard Ogendo, KNASFO secretary general, said just like the trustees put up in Masaai land to represent the community in the tourism sector, the sugar sector has learnt a lot and is ready to emulate this.

“Once there are valid trustee organisations, the farmers and the community will be assured of their stake, it will not be possible to transfer the nuclear estates,” said Ogendo. Attempts to privatise the State-owned millers have dragged following misunderstanding between stakeholders in the sector.

Farmers have been fighting to have a stake to ensure they have a voice when decisions are made in the sector.

And with the new proposal to have the millers leased, Busolo said the only way to have the interest of the farmers is through trustees. He said the State-owned millers owe farmers in excess of Sh1.8 billion. He said the debt-ridden millers are suffering from mismanagement and that the situation will be sorted by leasing the factories.

“Why is it that private millers in the country continue making profits and growth while the public millers go down? It is not just mismanagement, the farmer suffers most because they are not paid their dues even as the millers sell sugar,” said Busolo, noting that there is continued interest in investment in the sector by private investors.

He downplayed proposals by the county governments to be given a stake to represent the communities in the sugar sector, saying they have no capacity to do it.According to Busolo, only Kakamega, out of all the county governments which host State-owned sugar millers, has injected money to help the millers. “The government is the same, either national or county, and they have failed to save the millers. They cannot represent the interests of the farmers and the communities,” he said.

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