KENYA – The Agricultural and Food Authority of Kenya (AFA) has obliged the 16 sugar millers in the Western and Coastal regions to harvest cane in their regions as a step toward the acute shortage of the commodity facing the country.
The National Assembly Departmental Committee on Agriculture and Livestock, led by committee chairperson John Mutunga, recently said the shortage is a result of poaching, lack of policy framework, and unhealthy competition from importers of cheap sugar.
The restricting harvest of sugarcane in their select regions will help fight cane poaching that in recent years has been growing and leading to conflicts.
AFA Acting Director Jude Chesire, last week, announced the delineation of the sugar belt into six regions to limit conflicts and scramble for cane among millers.
“Millers should engage in regional consultations to develop and implement cane development and harvesting programs to be submitted to the Sugar Directorate by June 2,” said Mr. Chesire while pointing out that all millers will be required to submit accurate data to the regulator in prescribed formats to ensure proper decision-making going forward.
To reduce the high cost of litigation, he urged millers to seek alternative dispute resolution instead of going to court.
The initiative, according to AFA, is also aimed at ensuring that factories can continue to operate optimally amid soaring sugar prices.
In a communication to the managing directors of the 16 sugar millers in Western and Coast regions, the AFA said the directive was in line with the recommendations of the 16-member team formed by the government that came up with the Sugar Industry Stakeholders Task Force Report 2019.
“Such arrangements will ensure that millers continue to operate within capacities supported by a mature cane in their respective regions,” he said.
The operating regions cover the central region, which includes Kisumu, Nandi, and Kericho counties; the upper western region will include Bungoma, Kakamega (excluding Mumias area), Trans Nzoia, and Uasin Gishu counties.
The lower western region has the Mumias area alongside Siaya and Busia counties, while the southern region will consist of Migori, Homa Bay, Kisii, and Narok counties. Meanwhile, the Coast region will comprise Kwale, Lamu, and Tana River counties.
The new demarcation and the initiative were adopted following consultations between the AFA board and sugar millers during a meeting held in Kisumu to discuss ways of addressing the worsening sugar supply situation.
However, the new law has been met with resistance from a section of farmers, who have insisted that restricting them to millers will deny them freedom of choice and discourage healthy competition.
Mr. Saulo Busolo, chairman of the Kenya National Alliance of Sugarcane Farmers Organisation, warned that forcing farmers to be tied to inefficient sugar millers could force them to abandon sugarcane in favor of alternative crops.
“Some millers have now accumulated a lot of money in arrears from farmers. I am afraid that the situation could worsen if cash-strapped millers know that farmers have nowhere to turn,” said Mr. Busolo.
Kenya Association of Sugarcane and Allied Products (Kasap) chairman Charles Atyang’ explained that zoning is not a solution to reviving the sector as it will cripple the already ailing industry. He urged the government to allow cane growers to sell their produce independently to the highest bidder.