Inside Lake Basin bloc's plan to transform the region's economy

Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong'o during a joint press conference with regional leaders where he lamented on the failure by the national government to disburse funds to the counties. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

Lake Region Economic Bloc counties have hatched an ambitious plan which if actualised will spur the economic fortunes of its 14-member counties.

The move is part of wider strategy to transform Western Kenya counties to a commercial hub and a focal point for the country's trade with neighbouring countries.

Buoyed by a revamped political goodwill from a majority of the 14 counties that make up the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB), the region could be headed for brighter days if planned projects by the bloc come into fruition.

The Bloc brings together 14 counties within the Lake Victoria Basin, namely Bomet, Bungoma, Busia, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Kericho, Kisii, Kisumu, Migori, Nandi, Nyamira, Siaya, Trans Nzoia, and Vihiga with the aim of sustainable utilisation of shared resources.

While individual counties are pursuing several multi-million projects in collaboration with partners including the national government, LREB is also fast-tracking several projects tipped to refine the region's economic trajectory.

This came to the fore during the 11th LREB summit held in Migori where the bloc committed to pursue projects in agriculture, health, blue economy and climate change to transform their economy.

Governors from the bloc resolved to work together to ensure that they change the economic fortunes of the region. The plan targets revival of the sugar sector, tackling climate change and strengthening the bloc.

Among the sectors the governors outlaid plans to develop include the sugar industry that has been on its knees despite the huge potential it has to spur the region's economy.

In a joint communique by the partner counties, the bloc has resolved to embark on a massive investment in the sector and push for an increased utilisation of by-products from the sector. As parts of their efforts to revamp the sector, the bloc has pledged to invest in an integrated industrial park in the region that is anchored on the sugar industry.

The bloc has also resolved to push for the establishment of a publicly owned sugar factory to import and supply sugar only in instances where there is a deficit. Governors from the bloc are also keen to ensure that the government privatizes the state-owned millers in the region that are not living up to their expectations and have been struggling to mill.

In the region, many farmers from Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay, Nandi, Bungoma, Busia and Kakamega have discarded growing sugarcane as a result of the woes that the sector has been facing.

The acreage under cane has been greatly fragmented, falling from 220,000 hectares about 10 years ago to below 100,000 currently.

The public millers' capacity has also fallen from an installed capacity of 35,000 tonnes of cane per day to just over 3,000. The situation has also been worsened by the shortage of cane for public millers.

"We urge the national government to consider fiscal policies and trade agreements that protect the sugar sector which is a strategic economic venture. Sugar should be classified as food and not a commodity," said LREB.

In the health sector, the bloc agreed to embrace data-driven health systems for planning and disease management.

The governors led by the bloc's chairperson Anyang' Nyong'o plans committed to create a connected healthcare system where all facilities in the Lake Region are linked and able to access data in real-time.

According to LREB, data is critical in healthcare transformation. "We appreciate that data is critical in healthcare transformation hence the need to establish an integrated health data system," said the bloc.

Another key priority for the bloc is revamping the region's blue economy.

According to governors Nyong'o (Kisumu), Simba Arati (Kisii), Ochillo Ayacko (Migori), Fernandes Barasa (Kakamega), Ken Lusaka (Bungoma) and James Orengo (Siaya), the region's blue economy presents resources that can transform the lives of residents.