The need to streamline the sugar sub-sector took centre stage at yesterday’s sugar conference, with stakeholders pointing an accusing finger at barons and cartels.
Leaders from the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB), farmers, millers, sugar traders, importers, transporters, and other stakeholders blamed the lack of a binding policy to bring to order the sector that during its heydays constituted at least 15 per cent of the agricultural GDP and supported more than 400,000 farmers in the region.
“There are rogue players who own no nucleus estate for developing cane but are in the business of crushing. I know of one that has been operating with impunity to the point of owning a militia of poaching cane of farmers contracted to rival mills that are keen on developing cane,” said National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula.
“When Mumias and Nzoia were major players there was no such disorder that has brought the sector to disrepute. These are the players who messed up the otherwise profitable and organised industry and must bear the consequences,” he added.
Drawing an analogy from the Roman Empire era as he backed President William Ruto’s sentiment made last week when he toured western to the effect that such rogue dealers style up or ship out, Wetang’ula said they (rogue dealers) should be on their way out already.
“When a Roman Soldier messed up the kingship by betraying the king to his death, he didn’t wait to face the consequences, he dropped on his own sword to his own demise for bringing death,” he said.
“And if such a rogue operator is your friend as governor or MP, keep away from him so that he will be exposed,” he added.
He regretted that when millers were allowed to import sugar to cater for the shortage, the barons cleverly bought importation rights from some State millers to ship in sugar and deny the former money for operations as the rogue dealers thrived.
“Parliament is on recess but I will recall the MPs to among other things allow debate on the Sugar Bill that is at the second reading and pass a law to write off the about Sh117 billion that the public owes to kick start their operation,” said the Speaker.
“The Sugar Bill has legislation that will return the Sugar Development Levy and the Kenya Sugar Board that partly governed the sub-sector to its success. The MPs are woken up enough to pick all important issues from the forum and input in the bill at the Third reading,” said Wetang’ula.
Affecting a population of over 14 million the LREB region has 14 counties including Bomet, Bungoma, Busia, Homabay, Kakamega, Kericho, Kisii, Kisumu, Migori, Nandi, Nyamira, Siaya, Trans Nzoia and Vihiga.
Other speakers at the conference said the sub-sector was crucial for the country’s development.
LREB chair Anyang Nyong’o reflected on the 2019 Sugar Industry Stakeholders Task Force Report resolutions saying they were good at reviving the sub-sector, just that the devil was with implementation.
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“I am happy because from here we should not continue holding sugar meeting after meeting to the point of them becoming talking shops. The government should finally listen to us because we are a 14 million population in the LREB speaking one voice of reviving the sub-sector,” said Nyong’o.
At least 40 MPs from the region and their governors agreed with Ruto’s “Mambo ni Matatu” phrase directed at sugar barons in the sub-sector who filed multiple court cases to stall Mumias’ revival to withdraw them, leave the country or go to heaven, saying that such tough talk was what the sector needed to resuscitate.
Navakholo MP Emmanual Wangwe (ODM), the brain behind the private Sugar Bill which lays the ground works of actualising the sector’s reforms, received the bulk of praise for sponsoring the private member’s motion initially shunned by the government.
Kenya Association of Sugarcane and Allied Products (Kasap) chairman Charles Atyang regretted that when the levy was scrapped, the National Government never factored substantial amounts to develop the sugar sub-sector in the National Budget for the past four years.
Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa, who organised the conference, regretted that the country would be celebrating a century in successive sugar production but was mourning as a historic cane shortage had led to the shutting down of mills for four months.
The first mill was set up in the country in 1922 (Miwani) and the country, which was sufficient in sugar production only in 1980 and 1981, is today a net importer of the sweetener.
The sub-sector’s regulator Jude Cheshire from the Agriculture and Food Authority, Sugar directorate, said the conference held at Masinde Muliro University was timely.
“The views raised in the conference are pertinent and they come when the government has shown goodwill in reviving the sub-sector. I am sure we will soon return the smiles on the faces of farmers in sugar growing areas once the legislation to streamline the sub-sector takes shape,” he said.
The plenary sessions were passionately debated with the issue of zoning drawing heated debates. Millers who chose not to speak publicly had MPs and select union leaders speak on the subject on their behalf.
This prompted Busia Governor Paul Otuoma to ask Malava MP Malulu Injendi what he was holding brief for a particular miller when the said miller in fact had its own representatives in the plenary.
The topic came up even as the 2019 report and the majority of the stakeholders at MMUST supported zoning which during the good days of the sub-sector locked out dubious millers.
Afa has so far divided the country into five regions for its 16 mills; Central includes Kisumu and Kericho counties, and southern Nandi sub-counties.