In Summary
  • While the zoning might work where firms are still vibrant, it will condemn others to more agony.

  • It makes absolutely no sense to require farmers who have not been paid for a long time to continue sending their produce to the same firms.

The long suffering of sugarcane farmers in western Kenya could just get worse with the government planning to introduce rules that clearly go against the liberalisation that was meant to revolutionise the sugar industry. If enacted, the proposed Crops (Sugar) Regulations 2018 will confine cane farmers to supplying millers within their zones. This is bound to make life even more difficult for farmers, who will find themselves having to sell their crop to the same companies that cannot pay them.

The move is meant to address what is commonly known as cane poaching and enable millers to recoup investments in supporting farmers. While the zoning might work where firms are still vibrant, it will condemn others to more agony. It makes absolutely no sense to require farmers who have not been paid for a long time to continue sending their produce to the same firms. There is a serious problem here that calls for a comprehensive solution.

INDUSTRY QUAGMIRE

The rules, though well intentioned, are not the remedy to the current crisis. There is a need to revitalise the industry by coming up with pro-farmer policies.

A recent crackdown on contraband sugar partly revealed what ails the industry. Cartels behind the smuggling of sugar have largely contributed to the collapse of the once vibrant government-owned owned firms. The loopholes exploited by the cartels must be sealed.

There are calls for bailouts, but the government appears reluctant, as previous cash injections have not made much difference. However, the apparent turn-around in the fortunes of coffee farmers in central Kenya is an indication that this is a possible solution. The sugar industry quagmire is a wake-up call to seek a lasting solution. This should include modernising the factories and research to lower the cost of production, which makes our sugar much less competitive in the region.