Sugarbelt leaders want State to emulate private millers efficiency

Butali Sugar Mills Managing Director Sanjay Patel (left) and Director Jayant Patel (centre) during the two-day Sugar Industry Stakeholders Conference at Masinde Muliro University. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The national government has been challenged to emulate the management model applied by private sugar millers, even as it plans to revive the collapsed State-owned millers.

Malava MP Malulu Injendi singled out West Kenya Sugar Company and Butali Sugar Mills domiciled in his constituency as cane millers whose performance and management are outstanding.

He regretted that farmers were suffering owing to the lack of a market for their crop that was mature and ready for harvesting.

"It is important that State-owned millers borrow a leaf from the private factories which are run efficiently and managed well like West Kenya and Butali Sugar," said Injendi.

"The farmers are suffering because factories closed, so they have nowhere to sell their sugarcane," the Malava lawmaker maintained.

The private factories were lauded for paying farmers weekly and competitively as opposed to struggling government-owned millers.

Sugarcane development

For instance, in 2022, details show that West Kenya Sugar Company spent Sh300 million to pay more than 2,000 farmers weekly, translating into Sh15 billion annually.

The money was paid to farmers in 10 counties, including Kakamega, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga, Siaya, Kericho, Nandi, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Kisumu and West Pokot.

West Kenya Sugar Company, which owns Kabras Sugar in Kakamega, Olepito Sugar in Busia, and Naitiri Sugar in Bungoma, advanced at least Sh3 billion to develop sugarcane between 2020 and 2023.

Matungu MP Oscar Nabulindo lauded the idea of reviving sugar millers but warned that as long as there are no sufficient raw materials, it will be difficult to accomplish the revival plans.

He advocated for a special fund to be set aside specifically for cane development at least for two years.

"We are talking about reviving factories like Mumias Sugar but we are not talking about developing sugarcane. The first thing that should be done is to first develop enough sugarcane so that once the factory is revived, then there is cane for crushing," said Nabulindo.

Governors, from left, Fernandes Barasa (Kakamega), Ochilo Ayacko (Migori), Anyang Nyong'o (Kisumu) and  Bungoma's Keneth Lusaka at Masinde Muliro University during the Sugar Industry Stakeholders Conference. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Lugari MP Nabii Nabwera petitioned the governors to set aside some money in their budgets for the development of sugarcane and the distribution of subsidised fertiliser.

"We want governors to be factoring in their budget some money for cane development. We cannot leave the issue of cane development to the farmers who are struggling with life," said Mr Nabii.

Kiligoris MP Julius Sunkuli said there was no need to have additional mills in the country but to ensure the existing ones are running efficiently.

He appealed for enhanced sugar industry research with a view to ensuring that farmers plant fast-maturing and high-yielding varieties.

"Let us ensure that the existing millers are functioning efficiently. We do not need more sugar factories because even the land for growing cane is also reducing so where will the raw materials come from?" Posed Sunkuli.

Cane variety

Sunkuli's sentiments were echoed by MP Julius Melly who said there was a need for farmers to grow cane variety that takes between 12 and 15 months to mature.

Mr Melly also dismissed the call for zoning and noted that farmers should be allowed to trade their crops freely without any restrictions.

Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa urged State-owned factories to have a good management model.

"We must have a proper working management model that will make our factories prosper and operate efficiently. That is why we are rooting for our companies to have good management and we must pick from the private entities," said Barasa.

Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong reads the Sugar Industry Stakeholders Conference's resolutions after the two-day event held at Masinde Muliro University. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Barasa said for factories to have enough raw materials, farmers must be empowered by assisting them with research and cane development.

"We need to have good research so that we can have early maturing varieties to increase our productivity. We cannot be talking about productivity when we are not supporting farmers with varieties that mature quickly and hence enough raw materials for our companies to run efficiently," said Barasa.

 "We need to test our soils so that we can have healthy cane varieties." He added.

 However, the experts, legislators and stakeholders emphasized ensuring farmers are well catered to in terms of money, cane development subsidised farm inputs and research.

Seme MP James Nyikal called on the national and county governments to collaborate in ensuring farmers are at the centre of the revitalisation of the sector.

"We have to address the issue of farmers being neglected in the value chain where the focus has been on millers, writing off debts and not farmers. We must support our farmers," said Nyikal.

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