Bad politics blamed for slow pace of sugar sector reforms

Thursday, September 16th, 2021 00:00 | By
Wycliffe Oparanya, LREB chair and Kakamega governor. Photo/File

Kepher Otieno

Negative politics has been blamed for the stalled sugar sub-sector reforms that have left farmers a bitter lot.

Also contributing to the never-ending woes in the sub-sector, according to stakeholders in the Western Kenya belt are sugar mills operating below their capacity despite availability of raw materials.

Speaking to Business Hub in Kisumu recently, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya regretted that negative sugar industry politics prevented the much-needed sector reforms, warning that if the trend continues farmers will remain the losers in the long run.

“The President constituted a task force in the industry, which did everything and came up with recommendations to lease the sugar factories.

To date we are stuck because of some farmers’ vested interests. They have blocked the process in court,’’ he said.

President Uhuru (Kenyatta) had pledged to fast-track reforms recommended by the task force before 2022. 

“It is unfortunate that some farmer unions have instituted litigation to block the process of leasing the sugar factories which had started off successfully after it was adopted,’’ Oparanya who chairs the Lake Region Economic Bloc observed.

Kenya Union of Sugarcane Plantation and Allied Workers (KUSPAW) moved to court last year to stop the leasing of five state-owned sugar factories claiming that the workers were not involved in the discussions.

It petitioned the labour court to stop the process until a representative of the workers is gazzetted to be part of the committee overseeing the exercise.

This was after the task force which was co-chaired by Oparanya and former Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri agreed they go the leasing way to salvage the sub-sector. Agriculture CS Peter Munya took over after Kiunjuri.

Curb importation

Oparanya also urged the State to curb importation of cheap sugar and weed out cartels.

“It is these sugar barons who were at the apex of mercury found in imported products;’’ he said and underscored the need to develop a robust and competitive sugar sector. 

 Oparanya claimed that raw materials are now enough, adding that the bad situation remnains becuase factories cannot operate at the optimum capacity. 

Most of them do less than 3,000 tonnes of cane way below their initial installed crushing capacities.

This is across board, be it Sony, Chemelil, Nzoia, Muhoroni or Mumias,’’ he explained

Oparanya spoke as Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers led by Ezra Okoth said said that sugarcane farmers have been waiting for the implementation of the sugar taskforce report commissioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta to no avail.

He also alluded to the impact of negative politics, saying that some politicians tend to favour parochial interests over sound economic sense since many always are only concerned about their re-election during political seasons.

“So because of the need to be re-elected, some politicians have a short-term bias against common problems affecting the farmers who form a big part of the voting bloc,’’ he said. 

Okoth told the Business Hub that what looks good right now is more important to politicians than long-term consequences even when those consequences can be easily foreseen.

Since he received the Sugar Task Force Report, Munya has effected a number of proposals, including a waiver of the Sh62 billion debt that was choking the sector.

This was done ostensibly to clean the balance sheets of the five State millers that have made losses for many years in order to attract fresh investors.

In the second step, the government said it would lease out the debt-free sugar millers to private investors to turn them around.

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