Sugarcane farmers in western Kenya may soon receive a reprieve after President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the ministries of Agriculture and Treasury to address the woes facing sugarcane farmers by paying the Sh2.6 billion owed to them.
But the debt will be audited first, he said.
Speaking during this year’s Mashujaa Day celebrations held at Bukhungu in Kakamega County, President Kenyatta asked the two ministries to put in place measures to ensure that only genuine farmers are paid.
The Head of State also said the government is putting in place reforms that will ensure farmers are in future paid on time for cane delivered to sugar millers.
But the President did not give timelines, only saying that the payment and reforms should be as done as soon as possible.
“My administration has consistently focused on supporting sugarcane farming. It is not acceptable that cane factories have been collecting cane from farmers and not paying for it while we know very well demand for sugar has been on the rise,” said Mr Kenyatta.
He went on: “As a government that cares, I direct the ministry of Agriculture and the National Treasury to immediately put in place a framework to pay sugarcane farmers but after auditing the outstanding Sh2.6 billion.”
“On the other part of the sugarcane farmers, I encourage you all to sell your produce to the factories that are well-run and pay on time,” he added.
The President observed that the act by farmers who sell to informal markets was undermining their incomes and reversing the development of a proper sugar industry.
Mr Kenyatta warned factories that fail to promptly pay farmers and asked the millers to meet their obligations “in a timely and convenient manner”.
Speaking at the same event, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya said farming is the backbone of the county.
“Our people grow maize and sugarcane. Sugarcane farming is collapsing and our factories are closing down,” said Mr Oparanya as he called on the President to help address the challenge.
Mumias Sugar Factory, the one-time largest miller in the country owes farmers Sh1 billion and is no longer crushing cane due to the high debt.
But the president complained corruption was the cause of the stalemate and called for action against corrupt act.
ODM leader Raila Odinga, who attended the same event, noted that the sugar woes had affected farmers in western, Nyanza and Coast.
“We want to get a lasting solution to this problem,” Mr Odinga said.
The promise to sort out the mess in the sugarcane industry has been made before, but met with challenges in implementation.
Last week, President Kenyatta asked leaders from western Kenya to help provide what he called strategic thought on the sugar industry that will prevent the government from pumping money “into endless pits”.
At a meeting with political leaders from western region at State House, the President said he is willing to help revive the ailing sector, but his government will only finance what promises returns on investments.
A memorandum they presented to the President says they want the government to take the revival of the sugar industry seriously.
“There is need for a strategic plan for the revival of the industry in western as it has been both a mainstay and a sentimental industry for the people. Key, especially, are Mumias Sugar and Nzoia Sugar companies,” the leaders said.
By Daily Nation