The Government finally gazetted new sugar regulations that are expected to end perennial cane wars between millers.
The guidelines, which have been lying in draft form for nearly two decades, bring into the sugar industry a raft of measures that will provide a lifeline to public millers, who have been having difficulty getting cane supplied to them.
A biting cane shortage had driven a number of public millers, which are already indebted to the tune of Sh84 billion, to near-collapse.
The regulations, gazetted last week, have reintroduced zoning of the sugar belts, compelling private millers- which have hitherto heavily relied on cane poaching – to invest heavily in cane development programmes.
Prior to the regulations, private millers capitalised on inefficiencies rocking public sugar factories to divert cane to themselves.
According to the document, county governments will be involved more in demarcation of new plantation boundaries for the various millers in Nyando, South Nyanza, Western, Trans Mara and Coastal sugar belts.
It also brings to an end scenarios whereby millers from different sugar belts developed or harvested cane outside their zone and will be enforced by new committees that will rope in county governors.
The gazettement follows separate petitions to President Uhuru Kenyatta by governors and farmers from the Western Kenya sugar belt, in which they sought his intervention in expediting the revival of the sector.
However, although although farmers and sugar millers want immediate implementation of the new regulations, experts have warned that it could take some time before they come into force.
"It may take another two years before we realise true zoning because currently there are several millers that have invested in cane outside their zones and have to harvest thrice,” said Francis Wangara, the secretary general of the Kenya Union of Sugarcane Plantation and Allied Workers.
In the new policy, millers will be allocated zones and bound to help develop cane farming. Those with weighbridges outside their zones will have to move them.
In cases such as Kisumu where four millers – Chemelil, Muhoroni, Kibos and Miwani – are concentrated in one place, sharing of cane will be extended to neighouring counties.
“Chemelil could for example extend towards the Nandi Escarpment, Muhoroni towards Kericho and Kibos towards Siaya. Out-grower cane in the Nyando belt could be shared on agreed ratios,” explained Mr Wangara.
Proposed milling zones will be pegged on crushing capacity, but sharing will only be limited to cane developed by independent out-growers. This will tame poaching of cane from farms contracted by public millers.
The regulations are good news for cane farmers, owed millions of shillings by public millers. There is hope that they will now be paid once cane supplies resume.
The regulations also specify the relationship between farmers and the millers, transporters and even cane cutters. It prescribes the terms and timelines under which they are to be paid for cane delivered, farm-gate prices as well as harvesting period.
According to experts, the industry has been riddled with challenges such as licensing of millers close to one another, cane wars, illegal importation of cheap sugar and branding of the same and inefficiency among public millers, causing problems for farmers.
“It is really a good thing that the regulations have been approved, we have been waiting for so long for order to be restored, but the challenge now lies with implementation. The success of the regulations lies in their implementation,” said Kenya Federation of Sugarcane Farmers national deputy secretary General Atiang’ Atyang’
The regulations will also be good news for the recently formed Lake Region Economic Bloc that has set revival of the ailing sugar industry as its top priority
According to resolutions of ongoing public sensitisation drives across the 14 counties forming the bloc, governors plan to pool resources to drive the industry.
The chairman of the bloc, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, said the counties decided to intervene following growing opposition to plans to privatise Sony, Chemelil, Muhoroni, Nzoia and Miwani sugar companies.
“We are coming together to create an enabling environment which can in turn attract investors with the right interest and capital to save this industry,” he said.