Why Lake governors want audience with President Ruto
Western Kenya governors are seeking audience with President William Ruto to push for the implementation of the recommendations in the Sugar Task Force report in a bid to resuscitate the once lucrative and vibrant industry.
Through the 14-member Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB), the county bosses said the document, handed over to former President Uhuru Kenyatta, propose reforms that could turn around the fortunes of the industry.
Speaking during the close of the 11th summit of the bloc in Migori on Thursday, LREB chairman Anyang’ Nyong’o regretted that the proposals continue to gather dust on a desk somewhere.
“LREB leaders will meet the President to discuss the matter,” said the Kisumu County governor.
The governors said the proposals by the team that was co-chaired by former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri will rekindle the fortunes of the public mills that have been abandoned over the years.
The county bosses also urged sugarcane millers to focus on diversification of their products to improve their financial viability and give better returns to farmers.
Despite the fact that by products are fetching more than sugar, LREB governors cautioned that concentrating on the primary product could sink the industry further.
They pointed out that diversifying into other revenue streams such as production of ethanol and bagasse as well as generation of electricity will increase revenue and reduce the risks of over-reliance on one product.
The strategy was presented by United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Unido) Kenya Country Representative Anne Kawira Bucyana who looked at opportunities and challenges facing the sector.
“Compared to the cost of sugar, which goes at Sh104,000 per tonne, ethanol costs as high as Sh220,000 per tonne,” she said, adding that the sector has a potential of generating up to Sh648 billion a year.
Ms Kawira said diversification will jumpstart the debt-ridden public mills and support the livelihoods of more than six million Kenyans who depend on the sector directly and indirectly.
Prof Nyong’o, while supporting the venture, noted that anchoring on sugar production can support the establishment of an integrated industrial park and benefit the more than 14 million inhabitants.
“Sugar millers need to go beyond sugar production and change the payment formula in order for farmers to regain confidence and embark on mass growing of the cash crop,” he said.
While private millers are performing well, the public mills including Sony Sugar, Chemelil, Muhoroni and Nzoia are struggling to meet overhead costs.
The county bosses also called on the government to establish a sole agency for the importation of sugar in the country, to safeguard the sector.
Kenya relies on imported sugar to meet its annual deficit, which has now grown to one million against the production of 700,000 tonnes a year.
According to Kisii Governor Simba Arati, leaving the business at the mercy of the private players continues to impoverish the more than 250 small scale farmers in the country.
“The sugar importation business is becoming more lucrative than dealing in drugs. It is unfortunate that the barons have become so powerful and determining how the industry is run,” he said.
Migori Governor Ochillo Ayacko noted as unfortunate that the business is only benefiting 56 registered companies which have been given permits to import sugar.
“Importation of sugar is funding elections and impoverishing farmers who toil to produce the main raw material for sugar production,” he said.
He underlined the need for the sugar sector to be considered strategic and introduce strict regulations to reform it.
Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa and his Bungoma counterpart Kenneth Lusaka noted that the importers are making unrealistic profits compared to millers who incur high cost of production.
“Nzoia is riddled with many debts and delayed payment to farmers who are now feeling demotivated,” he said.
The bloc’s vice chairperson attributed the good performance of the private sector players to prompt payment and efficient management of the companies.