The sugar industry is facing a 700,000 metric tonne cane shortage.
According to Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers chairman Ibrahim Juma, at least one million metric tonnes of cane is required annually to keep sugar mills afloat.
Speaking shortly after a meeting for western Kenya farmers held in Kakamega yesterday, Mr Juma said the industry required Sh10 billion to develop at least 100,000 hectares of sugarcane to sustain the factories.
“We are calling on the Government to come to the rescue of cash-strapped factories by writing off their debts and releasing funds to them so that farmers can be paid,” the chairman said.
The State-owned factories owe farmers Sh2.6 billion in arrears for cane deliveries.
Ailing Mumias Sugar Company is the most indebted with Sh1 billion owed followed by Nzoia and Sony sugar companies, which owe growers Sh500 million each. Chemilil and Muhoroni owe farmers Sh300 million each.
Sharp divisions among industry players over factory zoning have added to the woes of farmers and millers.
Juma said it was not enough for politicians to speak about problems ailing the industry “at funeral places and from an uninformed point of view”.
“Deputy President William Ruto had earlier alluded to the fact that the Government was planning to write off a whopping Sh80 billion sugar factories debt but little has been done to achieve that. Leaders must separate politics from serious issues touching on the lives of Kenyans."
He said farmers would push for reforms aimed at reviving the industry and cushioning them from exploitation.
“I don’t see the reason why the Government would find it hard to bail out State-owned sugar firms when it has done it for tea, pyrethrum and coffee farmers. Cane growers deserve respect and support just like their colleagues involved in other cash crops,” he said.
Also present at the caucus were federation deputy secretary Simon Weschere, organising secretary Francis Waswa, Butali Outgrowers chairman William Kopi and his Busia counterpart Stephen Omuse, among other farmers’ representatives from Busia, Bungoma, Kakamega, Siaya and Trans Nzoia.
Mr Waswa urged Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri to meet farmer representatives and sugar millers to discuss and resolve emerging issues contained in the recently gazetted Draft Sugar Regulations.
“Some of the proposals flying around are being sponsored by individuals with hidden agendas. The CS must be careful because we don’t want laws that will hurt farmers and millers,” said Waswa.