Cartels invade west Kenya sugar mills

By Andanje Wakhungu

Farmers supplying sugarcane to Butali Sugar Company have raised concern about cartels that have frustrated their operations and delivery to the factory.

Cartels also continue to interfering with cane harvesting in the region, weeks after local leaders threated to stage a demonstration over delayed cutting of the mature crop.

Farmers leaders claim that their complains and those of other groups representing the farmers have been ignored by the Butali miller.

It is alleged that 10 private farmers are the ones calling the shots and controlling those whose cane is to be permitted for harvesting. 

Farmers have now protested to the Kenya National Association for Sugarcane Farmers (KNASF) Butali branch, demanding to hold a meeting with union officials over the looming crisis.

Led by KNASF branch secretary Ceasar Shiro, they confirmed local farmers had raised complains over the miller opting to harvest cane outside their nucleus.

“Butali is harvesting canes as far as Mumias and Nzoia and they have engaged private farmers who broker and transport the canes to the factory at a fee,” they said.

The practice has in the process made the cane harvested outside their nucleus a lucrative business.

Shiro who doubles as the manager Butali Sugar Cane Association revealed that so far they have identified 10 lorries belonging to business people who have invaded the sugar transport industry.

The transporters are brokering deals with outside farmers to have their cane harvested and transported to Butali at a fee.

The official said the vice was still rampant since the miller had given the brokers a clean bill of health at the expense of the local farmers.

Butali is the one now pushing thousands of farmers against the wall after it had been considered the best paying per tonnage.

The chairman of the Butali Sugarcane Farmers Association William Kopi agreed that permit issuance was a big issue and they have been following it to establish the route cause.

He blames the delay on the Coronavirus outbreak which stagnated many operations including the Butali milling industry that adjusted its crushing programme.

“We used to crush 24 hours but we had to reduce to14 hours a day to control the influx of workers in and out of the factory to combat the spread of Covid-19,” said Kopi.

That, he said decreased the issuance permits to farmers and that is what has caused the backlog together with a lot of rains that saw canes mature at high rate.

“The factory’s crushing capacity per day is 2,500 tons but could not meet it and we have talked with the management on the need to increase to 3,000 tons which they are yet to agree,” he added.

He however agreed that the association was toothless on matters concerning advocacy for the farmers after several attempts to streamline issues raised with the miller hit a snag.

Kopi also told off the critics of Butali sugar alleging that the same problems were being experienced in West Kenya hence none of the factories were better than the other in matters of service delivery.

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