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Western leaders urge Uhuru, Raila to help revive sugarcane sector

Mumias sugarcane farmers protest at Shianda in Mumias East on June 4, 2021. They were protesting against politicians from Western who are against an investor who had shown interest in reviving Mumias sugar factory. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Western Kenya leaders have petitioned President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga to help unlock the stalemate in attempts to revive Mumias Sugar Company and the struggling sector.

Last week, business magnate and Devki Group founder Narendra Raval withdrew his bid to lease Mumias Sugar after the process drew huge public interest.

The receiver-manager had invited Devki Group to help revive the ailing miller. But Western Kenya sugarcane farmers, several politicians and the Kenya National Alliance of Sugarcane Farmers Organisation opposed the planned takeover, insisting on public bidding. Kenya Commercial Bank placed Mumias Sugar under receivership and the once-thriving miller is a shell tottering on the brink of total collapse. Mr Raval was therefore willing to bail out the miller through a direct invitation.

Yesterday, National Assembly Majority Whip Emmanuel Wangwe said sugarcane farmers are not overly concerned with who owns or runs the millers if at all their cane is delivered to the factories and they are paid on time. He urged leaders from the sugar belt to put aside their political differences and take a bipartisan approach in trying to revive the sector. He said they would meet President Kenyatta and Raila to intervene for the greater benefit of the sugarcane farmer.

“When Mumias Sugar is on its death bed, with no cane crushing and the farms empty, who benefits? We leaders from Western must work extra hard and get suitable and capable investors to bail out our struggling factories. Petty politics will not put money into the pockets of the small cane farmer, who has suffered for long,” Mr Wangwe told The Standard.

He said if an investor can demonstrate technical and financial capacity, all what the stakeholders should do is ensure farmers get the best deal.

Wangwe added that the president had in the past demonstrated willingness to revive the sugar sector and many proposals have been presented to him.

“All a sugarcane farmer is looking for is to have his or her delivered cane crushed, paid on time and when their sons and daughters come of age, they can be hired in the factories. Other issues of ownership and running the factories are of little concern,” he said.

He urged Western leaders including ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi, Ford-Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa to speak in one voice on the sugar matter even as they share the turbulence in the sector with the president. “It can be done, but only if we keep aside our political competition,” he said.

He added: “Many of those questioning the process of getting new investors for Mumias Sugar are late comers. Where were they in 2009 when the firm went from a profitable miller to huge losses?” 

Last Wednesday, Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala and his Bungoma counterpart opposed the proposed takeover of Mumias by Devki Group, claiming that all stakeholders were not consulted before the deal was struck.

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