West Kenya in ambitious plan to increase cane availability

West Kenya Sugar workers apply fertiliser during cane planting in Musokoto village, Busia County. [Benard Lusigi, Standard]

West Kenya Sugar Company has embarked on an aggressive and ambitious farmers' recruitment drive in Western as the local sugar industry remains crippled by acute shortage of sugarcane.

The initiative targets at least 5, 000 new farmers in Busia according to Boniface Oundo who is in charge of cane development at the Busia-based Olepito Sugar factory.

The Field officers have also been crisscrossing villages in targeted counties to meet and recruit farmers amid projections that Western Kenya is likely to experience heavy rains from this month to January 2024.

On Thursday, the officers combed Musokoto, Kajoro, Segero and Kisoko distributing seed-cane and fertilizer to recruited farmers to use it either for planting or top dressing.

“Our target is to increase the acreage under sugarcane and expand cane production in this region, there is goodwill from the farmers,” said Oundo.

Under the initiative, the company has been preparing land for the newly recruited farmers, supplying them with fertilizer and seed cane and training them on recommended cane husbandry through demonstrations.

“What we are doing now is for posterity because as West Kenya Sugar Company we resolved to ensure we recruit farmers and support them to develop sugarcane so that our factories have sufficient raw material for milling,” said Oundo.

Details show that the company has advanced sugarcane farmers loans in the form of farm inputs including supply of quality seed cane and fertilizer and services such as ploughing and Furrowing.

The sugar miller recovers the expenses from the first harvest at five per cent interest.

“We want to make good use of this plenty of rain to help our farmers plant more cane,” said the head of cane development Mr Oundo.

West Kenya Sugar is taking the advantage of closure of sugar factories due to a biting sugarcane shortage to develop the crop in order to forestall raw material shortages when milling resumes.

It is against this backdrop that last week the company distributed motorcycles to field officers to enhance their mobility.

The Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) shut down sugar factories in Western and Nyando regions in Nyanza close to three months ago citing scarcity of mature sugarcane.

AFA equally placed all factories under respective catchment areas to ensure maximum concentration on cane development besides banning millers from importation of sugar.

The Authority gave Olepito Sugar factory the green light to resume milling on measured basis just for the sake of framers who had mature cane.

In a letter dated October 2, 2023, addressed to General Manager of Olepito Sugar Gerald Okothi, AFA said they reviewed the request submitted to the authority and have since accepted it as per cane availability report from the miller.

“We have reviewed your request based on the cane availability survey we undertook on September 19, 2023. We hereby grant approval for sugar milling resumption at a low crushing capacity,” reads the AFA letter in part.

“You are therefore required to resume milling for a period of three months (October-December 2023). Undertake milling operations for a maximum period of 15 days per month,” the letter reads further.

According to Oundo, farmers with mature cane were glaring at huge losses “but we are now going to harvest their crop and this must be sweet news to many of them."

George Oki, a farmer from Tangakona, said the resumption of operations was good news to farmers with mature crop.

“My cane had overgrown because the factories closed when I was almost harvesting. I am happy that at least I am going to harvest,” said Oki.