The State has accused its own firm, Nzoia Sugar Company, of engaging in cane poaching as the practice turned fatal in parts of Western Kenya.
Agriculture PS Richard Lesiyampe said Nzoia has particularly harvested cane of farmers contracted by private rival, West Kenya Sugar Company.
“Information received by Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) indicates that on November 12, cane cutters from Nzoia, for instance, harvested cane on a farm… contracted by West Kenya,” said Dr Lesiyampe.
The incident in question resulted in a confrontation that saw tractors belonging to West Kenya extensively damaged and an employee of Nzoia killed.
The PS warned of “stern” action on millers who purchase cane that does not belong to them.
In September, the ministry introduced strict zoning and contracting rules in a bid to tame cane poaching. Under the rules, millers were supposed to restrict harvesting to specific zones and improve contract terms for farmers.
Under the rules, farmers face fines of 2.5 per cent of the value of their delivery if they sell cane to millers outside their zones. Millers, on the other hand, face a 1.5 per cent monthly interest rate on payment delayed beyond 30 days.
Last week, Dr Lesiyampe directed millers to stick to their agreement with farmers. He said cane should only be harvested by the factory that has entered into agreement with the grower.
The ministry has instructed millers to immediately disband the anti-cane poaching units that normally comprise armed individuals who guard the cane.
He said the ministry had requested the Inspector- General of Police to ensure that security is maintained in the cane catchment areas and investigate the deaths that resulted from poaching activities.
The PS said the government is finalising sugar regulations for gazetting. The new rules are expected to restore sanity in the industry.
Serious shortage of cane in the western sugar belt has been blamed for the rampant cases of poaching between rival millers.
This year, the Sugar Directorate issued a directive to millers to sign new contracts with farmers to curb cases of cane theft.
Among other things, the new contracts state the time and amount that millers should pay the growers.
Nearly all millers have been hit by the shortage of raw material with Kenya’s largest miller Mumias Sugar Company suffering acute cane shortage, which has affected its production.
The miller has been operating for two days a week because it does not have enough cane to sustain continuous production.