Cane farmers union defends field officers

By Andanje Wakhungu

The Kenya Union of Sugar Plantation and Allied Workers Union (KUSPAWU) has defended field officers on claims that they are corruptly issuing cane harvesting permits.

The workers union said the public outcry and bribery claims by farmers over the issuance of cane harvesting permits are malicious.

“It is the farmers who are to blame for bribing the officials and not the field officers,” said the union that also represents agricultural extension officers and field assistants.

KUSPAWU Branch Secretary Jeremiah Akhonya said farmers were using short cuts to get quick services but the issue of delayed permitting was being handled by the factory and the union at large.

He attributed the delay to the large quantity of cane that is ready for harvesting beyond the crushing capacity of the millers.

“We are doing all we can to normalize because there is too much cane due to unexpected long rains throughout last year,” said Akhonya.

He aded that the miller was also to blame for expanding their canes catchment areas leading to delayed issuance of permits crisis singling the West Kenya Sugar Company.

Akhonya said the company has erected weighbridges in Chemilil (Kisumu), Misikhu (Bungoma), Magut (Uasin Gishu and others in Busia and on the border of Kisumu and Kericho counties from where cane is transported to the factory.

“This means that we have expanded the catchment area of the factory but we have not expanded crushing capacity to meet the supply hence we are not able to mill as fast as we harvest and that is what is causing delays,” said Akhonya.

Although Butali Sugar Company expanded its mills, the processor house that handles syrup was not enlarged and hence it cannot crush more than what the processor house can handle.

On the other hand West Kenya has done some expansion that has seen now two mills crushing more than 6,000 tons per day but the processor house limits the crushing capacity respectively.

The hindrances being experienced are due to the low crushing capacity and this has led to the factories limiting the amount of raw materials coming in.

“So the issue of field assistants delaying permits is regulated and dictated by the crushing capacity of the factories,” saidAkhonya.

At West Kenya, the company has expanded its transport sector by bringing in new fleets (over100) tractors out of which 30 were taken to Misikhu, with Magut also receiving the same number to increase cane transportation to the factory.

Another reason for delayed permitting is that West Kenya acquired huge chunks of cane lands in Chemilil, Dominion farm in Siaya, Trans Nzoia (Noah Wekesa farm).

The union said West Kenya Sugar Company should be asked to set up another factory unit in Dominion farm Siaya to service the farmers within that area.

“We are also still pushing for the Naitiri factory in Bungoma to start its operations as soon as possible to give farmers some reprieve in acquiring permits but the most important one is the Dominion one which is over 15,000 hectares.

The union said the management had suggested to set up a factory and now the canes from the farms have matured and need to be harvested.

Akhonya warned of a major showdown between farmers and the millers if the two factories are not established and made operational to ease congestion as millers continue harvesting from other areas.

Cane farmers are now seeking to meet Senator Cleophas Malala and union officials to help resolve the issue quickly.

The union officials also say there is need to liberalize the market to allow new players come in after the exit of Mumias which was the largest canecrushing company.

All  the cane that comes from Mumias, Bunyala, and Navakholo among other area, now ends up at the West Kenya factory totally overwhelming its crushing capacity.

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya has been urged to continue pushing for the revival of Mumias Sugar Company as it will play a big role in salvaging the problems millers are experiencing.

The union also said West Kenya has withdrawn all the farmer incentives it used to offer farmer.

“There is a time when the miller will need the farmers unlike now when the factory cannot give them advance loans to pay school fees among other emergency needs,” they said.

Akhonya noted that the two companies in Kakamega are not serving farmers to their satisfaction due to lack of farmers associations.

West Kenya Sugar Company Limited (Wekscol) and Butali Out Growers Farmers Association were wound-up under unclear circumstances.

“The farmers associations were key in advocating for a level playing ground between the farmers and the miller but now that they are no more,” said Akhonya.

It is upon the local leadership among them the MPs and MCAs within the sugar belt to push for the rights of the farmers.

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