- The Act ignores the fact that all the players are a crucial ingredient to the overall growth of the sugar industry in the country.
- As the domestic market enjoys an abundance of cheap imports, farmers continue to get peanuts.
The Crops Act, 2013 was enacted to, among other objectives, accelerate the growth and development of agriculture and enhance productivity and the incomes of farmers and the rural population, many thought the troubles that have bedevilled the sugar sector would be over.
Far from it! The Act has turned out to be the Achilles heel, the source of agony for the farmers and millers.
Zoning is the elephant in the room.
While the Crops Act is silent on this, the Sugar Act, which preceded that legislation, clearly defines a zone as an area within a radius of up to a maximum of 40 kilometres of a sugar mill.
It is this omission that has contributed to a lot of the problems the millers are experiencing and the diminishing quality of cane in the sugar growing zones.
While the regulator, the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA), and the Agriculture ministry have argued that the Crops Act came as a real cure from the death knell that the farmer was facing, the reasoning is only good on paper because the unfavourable business environment faced by the millers definitely affects the farmers as well.
The Act ignores the fact that all the players are a crucial ingredient to the overall growth of the sugar industry in the country.
The saddest thing, however, is that even when small windows of opportunity present themselves for the government to attempt to redress the situation, it has looked the other way.
For example, the government recently allowed the importation of duty-free sugar to fill up the deficit in the country.
This was good news to the consumers, but it was a temporary solution to the problems facing the sugar sector.
In my view, millers sell sugar to traders. They have invested in marketing and distribution channels that guarantee returns for every person involved.
Allowing traders who sell directly to the consumers disrupts the chain and denies revenue to a number of business interests along the distribution channel.
Traders are in business to make profits, while the millers’ profits reach the farmer directly or indirectly through projects such as road construction, talent development as well as the provision of education opportunities.
Nzoia, Sony and West Kenya sugar companies spend millions of shillings annually on talent development and recognition.
The government seemed to have realised its mistake by issuing another gazette notice that allowed millers only to import sugar, but this was soon rescinded, leaving the millers at the mercy of some unscrupulous importers out to make a kill at the expense of the farmer.