Omtatah leads Farmers, MPS in rejecting sugar zoning

Speaker of the National Assembly Moses Wetangula and Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa lead other sugar sector delegates in the sugar forum conference at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology on September 8, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Some leaders from Western Kenya have joined farmers opposed to the zoning of sugar mills.

Busia Senator Okiya Omtatah, Malava MP Malulu Injendi and former chairman of the defunct Kenya Sugar Board (KSB) Saul Busolo argued that introducing zoning will make rogue millers neglect and enslave the farmers.

Speaking during a two-day sugar conference at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) yesterday, the leaders termed zoning a hot issue that will deny the farmers the freedom to sell their produce to a buyer of their choice.

"The issue of zoning is a hot one and I personally would not like to be tied to one sugar mill," argued Injendi.

Mr Omtatah said that farmers should be left to be free and sell their raw materials to the company of their choice and have a free competitive market.

"The issue of zoning is no longer an issue in today's discussion on how to address the problem the cane sector is facing the farmers have a right to own land and must have a right to decide where to sell their raw materials based on the contract the framers have with various sugar factories," said Omtatah.

"The idea of zoning and putting farmers in groups like cooperatives should not be allowed and the government should ensure farmers have an enabling environment to do their farming by regulating the sector and ensuring sugar millers assist growers to develop sugarcane and expand the acreage under the crop to make raw materials available for our factories," he added.

National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang'ula called for regulation of the sub-sector to ensure there is no poaching of cane.

"We want the venture to be regulated. We do not want a scenario where a certain miller poaches and harvests cane developed by another miller and yet that certain factory has invested a lot in ensuring farmers plant enough sugarcane," said Wetang'ula.

Charles Atyang, chairman of the Kenya Association of Sugarcane and Allied Products (KASAP) opposed zoning urging the government to ensure millers empower farmers to grow more cane for the viability of the cane industry.

"We want a free and fair competitive market where farmers are given the right to sell their raw materials to the factory of choice and based on how millers have helped farmers in growing their product," said Atyang.

"What we want is our millers to help farmers achieve low costs of production by availing fertilizer, researching, conducting soil testing and investing in training to increase production of the cane and make profit."

Michael Arum, chairman of Sugar for Campaign Change said he was disappointed with the sugar conference because the zoning of cane plantation dominated the conference and not the issue of cane productivity and low cost of production.

"We wanted to discuss how we can lower the cost of production and increase productivity for the betterment of our farmers and millers but we are discussing whether to introduce zoning or not, but zoning will not solve the productivity problem," said Arum.

"Zoning will pin me down as a farmer because I will be subjected to a miller who does not take away my welfare as a farmer, we need a good contract between the millers and farmers where we will have good pricing and favorable competition," he added.

Steve Olenarupa, a farmer faulted the organizers of the event which he claimed was hijacked by by politicians and not real farmers.

"We were happy when our Lreb Governors led by Fernandes Barasa organized this event to deliberate on issues affecting our sector but it has been hijacked by politicians and we are appealing that farmers be allowed to give out real issues affecting the sector during the second day of this event,"said Olenarupa.