Farmers’ troubles increase as cane shortage persists

The troubles facing sugar millers in western Kenya have conspired to lower the country’s production further, compounding the situation for cane farmers and producers alike.

On Tuesday, the Sugar Directorate said the country has failed to match last year’s production, owing to shortage of raw material, with factories operating below capacity.

“Production declined from about 126,000 metric tonnes registered last year to 104,000 tonnes and the situation may get worse due to the continued shortage of cane,” Sugar Directorate Chief Executive Solomon Odera told the Nation, indicating that there has been a drop of 16 percent in production this year compared to the same period in 2016.

At the South Nyanza Sugar Company (Sony), production is getting lower and the firm’s milling programme remains uncertain going forward.

Officials at Sony told the Nation that the factory has already crushed mature cane from all the 30,000 contracted farmers in Kisii, Migori and Homa Bay counties.

Lack of raw material means it could suspend operations at least until the next round of cane is mature.

“The situation is very serious … we do not have cane on the farms.

“The industry players are holding meetings to address this crisis but no solution has been found so far,” Mr Bernard Otieno, Sony’s Managing Director, said.

Its production has dropped to 2,800 tonnes from 6,000 tonnes per month and could get lower.

The Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers secretary-general Ezra Okoth said farmers in the region should be assisted to develop their farms immediately so that operations of the millers in the region are sustained.

“I ask our county governments to lend farmers soft loans to help them develop their farms and then the county administrations can recover the money when they are paid by the millers,” he told a press conference in Migori town.

Mr Okoth said that since the collapse of Sugar Development Levy (SDL), growers in Nyanza and Western have no kitty from where they can get low interest cane development loans.

SDL, he argued, enabled farmers to acquire farm inputs such as fertilisers cheaply on loan from the millers and which was deducted later during the payment of their dues.

“Now cane development on the farms has been undermined by lack of adequate capital by the growers. The scrapping of the fund in 2015 was a big setback to the struggling sugar industry,” Mr Okoth said.

Apart from farm inputs, the levy, which was raised through a fee charged on sugar millers, was also being used by the factories to maintain roads within the sugar belt.

At the South Nyanza Sugar Company (Sony), production is getting lower.

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