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Ray of hope for sugarcane farmers as Soin sugar factory revival takes shape

 Members of the clergy lead prayers during the groundbreaking ceremony for the revival of the Soin Sugar Factory on June 21, 2024. [Nikko Tanui, Standard]

Sugarcane farmers along the Kericho and Kisumu county borders are staring at better times following the Sh2.5 billion revival of the Soin Sugar Factory in Soliat Ward, Kericho County.

The development is also a major boost for the industry that is beginning to come out of the woods after several years of controversies.

Willy Rono, a farmer from the Kapsorok area with three acres of sugarcane, expressed relief at the reopening of the factory.

"The proximity of Soin Sugar Factory, less than four kilometers from my farm, will significantly reduce my transport costs," he said.

Previously, farmers spent between Sh800 and Sh1,200 to transport a ton of sugarcane to distant factories like Kibos and Muhoroni sugar factories.

With the revival of Soin Sugar Factory, these costs are expected to be halved.

Musa Koech, who cultivates eight acres of sugarcane, shared his enthusiasm for the factory’s reopening.

"The revival gives me the motivation to expand my sugarcane plantation. Over the years, I had become less active in farming, but now I have a reason to invest more energy and increase my acreage," he said.

Joseph Mutai highlighted the broader economic benefits, noting that the factory's revival will breathe new life into trading centers such as Motero, Kaitui, and Soliat.

"Local entrepreneurs will also benefit as businesses in these areas will be revitalized," he added.

Speaking during the groundbreaking ceremony for the project, which is expected to take 18 months, Soin Sugar Company Chairman Paul Chirchir outlined the significant upgrades planned.

Operations had been suspended in 2014 due to outdated technology, but the revival project will introduce new milling technology.

"We plan to start processing 1,500 tons of sugarcane per day and progressively increase to a capacity of 4,000 tons per day," Chirchir said.

Chirchir urged farmers to focus on sugarcane cultivation, assuring them of strong support from the factory.

"We will partner with the Sugar Board and other stakeholders to provide farmers with the latest sugarcane varieties that mature within 10-12 months," he stated.

The fast-maturing varieties, along with training in modern farming methods, will help farmers achieve better returns while reducing production costs.

The revitalized factory will serve sugarcane farmers not only in Soin/Sigowet constituency but also in Ainamoi and Belgut constituencies.

"We aim to expand the catchment area beyond Soin/Sigowet," Chirchir noted.

The factory also plans to diversify its operations into distillery, power generation, fertilizer manufacturing, and carton manufacturing, creating multiple avenues for local economic growth.

Richard Magero, the Deputy Technical Director of the Sugar Directorate, expressed anticipation for issuing the milling license once construction is complete.

"We are excited about Soin Sugar's comeback and will provide all necessary support, similar to our past collaborations," he said.

Magero advised the company to also focus on sugarcane development as construction commences.

Soliat Member of County Assembly (MCA) Albert Kipkoech, who also chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, committed to ensuring adequate funding for access roads to the factory.

"We appeal to the executive to use emergency funds for the construction of Chepkonye bridge and to utilize the 20 acres of public land in Soliat for sugarcane development," he said.

Kericho Governor Dr. Erick Mutai, the guest of honor at the groundbreaking ceremony, announced that his administration will allocate Sh50 million for cash crop development, including sugarcane, to be distributed freely to Kericho farmers.

“The Soin Agriculture Research Center will develop fast-maturing, high-yielding sugarcane varieties with high sucrose content, similar to Brazilian varieties,” he said.

Governor Mutai also revealed his administration is hiring 30 agricultural extension officers to educate farmers on the best sugarcane varieties, fertilizers, and other practices to maximize yields and returns.

“Additionally, an outlet for government-subsidized fertilizer distribution will be established in Kapsorok,” he said.

Governor Mutai said the revival of Soin Sugar Factory coincides with the planned construction by the national and the county government of a Sh500 million industrial park in Kapsorok, which the company can leverage for further growth.

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