There are several agricultural-based projects which were initiated at devolution that have put Vihiga, Kakamega, Busia and Bungoma counties in a spot.
A few of those projects have been completed, but a majority have collapsed while others never took off despite allocation of millions of shillings.
When Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong appended his signature to a Sh1.5 billion deal with Everest Fresh Ltd to build a juice factory in Malaba, many residents of Ikapolok in Teso North were hopeful of the venture. They had a promise the factory would create over 1,500 jobs.
The factory, which was to be constructed on five acres, had the capacity to produce 240 tonnes of juice per day. Governor Ojaamong’s administration had released the land for the same purpose.
However, the content of the agreement was kept top secret by the county. After signing of the MoU with Everest, Ojaamong disclosed his administration was committed to ensure the factory is set up.
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The deal came just a few months after the county had organised Busia International Investment Conference in March, 2015.
“Community co-operatives by local farmers will be established to shield the farmers from middlemen. High taxes will be imposed on imported fruits with the view of motivating local farmers to produce more,” Ojaamong said at the time.
Five years later, there is little to show for the big signing ceremony. Farmers are unaware if the factory will be built or the deal between the county and Everest Fresh Ltd was a stillbirth.
A year before in 2014, a group of South Korean investors visited Busia and expressed interest to set up an organic fertiliser plant at Korinda area.
The 14 businessmen held a meeting with Ojaamong and a perimeter wall was erected around the site. The same has since been allocated to local traders.
At the same time, the county was to construct a multi-million cassava factory in Simba Chai in Teso South constituency.
In 2017, the county Agriculture Executive Moses Osia announced equipment for the cassava factory had arrived in Busia awaiting installation. Farmers were to be given cassava stems by the county government to facilitate large scale plantation.
“The factory will soon be up and running as we have already purchased required equipment,” Osia said during distribution of agricultural development cheques to 45 farmers at Amukura Sports Ground in 2017 in a function Ojaamong presided over.
Three years later, the factory is not yet operational. An additional Sh5 million has again been allocated in the current fiscal year to facilitate its operationalisation.
Contacted for comment, director for Agriculture Samson Kachina told the Sunday Standard that the investor, who wanted to put up a fruit juice factory in Malaba, failed to meet his obligations.
“Our role as a county was to provide technical input but the investor started asking local farmers to buy suckers at Sh50. It was not ideal so we had to let him go,” said Khachina.
On the fertiliser plant, which the South Korean investors were to put up in the region, Khachina said the investor pulled out after making unnecessary demands.
But the agriculture director is still hopeful the cassava factory will be operational soon.
Next door in Kakamega County, the operation of Kakamega Global Tea Factory in Shinyalu has raised eyebrows. The factory was launched in January 2017 but has never processed tea. Despite being re-launched twice, there has been no meaningful development save for the fencing of the land. Overgrown grass now covers the compound.
The initial plan was to give farmers 30 per cent shares at the tea factory, which was to be put up at a cost of Sh300 million, but stalled after the United Kingdom investor, who was to finance the project, pulled out.
The Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA) also demanded the county to produce at least five million tonnes of tea annually before it could be licensed.
“We have spent Sh25 million in tea development in the last five years in which 375,000 seedlings were distributed to farmers,” said Philip Kutima, the Kakamega county deputy governor when he was in-charge of the agriculture docket in March.
The county is optimistic that by 2022 the factory will be up and running with two parallel processing machines for black and orthodox tea. In June this year, Governor Wycliffe Oparanya said it will begin crushing in 64 weeks.
Last October, Oparanya launched the Malava Dairy Plant at Tumbeni in Malava Sub-county. The project was first conceptualised in 2016. The construction of the Sh110 million milk processing plant is 70 per cent complete and is set to open its door early next year.
“We are developing milk nuclears for the dairy plant by starting smart farms across the 12 sub-counties of Kakamega. The smart farms will be producing at least 6,000 litres of milk per day for the plant,” said Kelly Nelima, the county livestock and fisheries department chief officer.
The county sunk Sh240 million in the smart farm project and three years down the line, only Bukura and Matungu farms are operational while that of Khwisero sub-county is 90 per cent complete.
Each smart farm was supposed to have at least 25 pedigree cows.
“The challenge was identifying suitable land to put up the farms. We now have land in remaining sub-counties where construction has started. We will not be buying dairy cows since we already have enough from Bukura and Matungu to supply to the new farms,” said Nelima.
The county government through the ‘One Cow Initiative’ also gave out 2,000 dairy cows and 600 heifers to farmers across the county to supplement the project. However, about 15 per cent of them died due to poor management from the beneficiaries. Each cow was procured at Sh70,000, according to Nelima.
In Vihiga County, Governor Wilber Ottichilo’s successful flagship project was the Mwitoko Fish Farm in Emuhaya Sub-county that was put up a cost of Sh32 million.
The county has been able to put up 1,200 fishponds covering 44.7 acres and now they have 1,800 farmers, who have ventured into the project on large scale.
“We are producing over 100,000 fingerlings of tilapia and catfish every month and during the Covid-19 pandemic, we sold over 20,000 fingerlings at Sh5 each as a way of boosting fish production in the county,” said Wilson Munala, the county Director of Fisheries.
Munala said the county was self-sufficient on local fish stock and had stopped depending on fish from Lake Turkana, Lake Victoria and imports from China before Covid-19 struck.
“Each fish pond gives between 800-1,000 mature fish, which are sold at Sh250-Sh300 and out of the 1,200 ponds we have, we are producing at least 960,000 mature fish after every six months,” said Munala.
There is more disheartening news from Bungoma County where former governor Ken Lusaka (now Senate Speaker) opened a Sh40 million chicken slaughterhouse in Chwele.
Lusaka had estimated that at least 700 people were to get direct jobs at the chicken abattoir with another 1,500 others getting indirect jobs. The slaughtered birds were to be exported.
However, the factory machines were only operated during the launch in August 2016. The gears have never turned since due to lack of birds to slaughter as well as lack of goodwill from the current regime.