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Sugarcane farmers group wants to be part of key Monday meet

Monday meeting is expected to bring together lawmakers and governors from cane growing regions. It will take place against a backdrop of simmering differences over claims of farmers being left out of the 16-member task force formed by the ministry last year.

Sugarcane farmers group wants to be part of key Monday meet

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri is expected to chair a sugarcane industry meeting in Kisumu on Monday. FILE PHOTO | NMG

A farmers organisation wants to be included in a meeting to discuss the issues affecting the sugarcane industry that takes place in Kisumu County on Monday. The meeting, to be chaired by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga, is expected to bring together lawmakers and governors from cane growing regions. While it is not clear if farmers will take part in the meeting to discuss the efforts to be made in streamlining the once lucrative industry, cane growers have cautioned that their exclusion could be unlawful.

The stakeholders’ engagement will take place against a backdrop of simmering differences over claims of farmers being left out of the 16-member task force formed by the ministry last year. Following their unsuccessful attempts to have a representative in the committee, a section of growers formed a parallel task force in an attempt to ensure that their voices are heard in the ongoing deliberations to revive the sugar industry.Through the Kenya National Alliance of Sugarcane Farmers Organisation, headed by interim chairman Saulo Busolo, the team visited sugarcane growing zones around the country as it strategised to have its report consolidated with that of the task force.The group’s request to be involved in Monday’s meeting signals its willingness to end divisions that have hampered the government’s efforts to establish the root causes of the troubles facing the industry and how to address them.“It is important to bring farmers on board since they are critical stakeholders in the industry. More than 90 per cent of Kenya’s milled sugar comes from small-scale farmers,” Mr Busolo said.

Mr Kiunjuri is reported to have said that he would neither engage the group nor receive its report to forward to President Uhuru Kenyatta.He accused the Busolo-led team of being used by “selfish individuals” to frustrate government efforts to salvage the collapsing industry.But Mr Busolo said it is irrational for the government “to use one man in its attempts to address problems in an industry that mainly depends on farmers for its critical raw material”. “The top-down communication has not worked in the past and we call upon the minister to include cane growers. This is in line with the principle of public participation as enshrined in the country’s Constitution,” Mr Busolo said. “We have not received any communication so far but we hope farmers’ representatives will be part of this vital meeting that is expected to come up with important decisions.” Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers treasurer Stephen ole Narupa said for growers to be adequately prepared for the meeting, its agenda should be made public. “Given the myriad issues facing the industry, the one day set aside for the meeting will be inadequate. There is a need to earmark the contentious issues to save time and allow stakeholders to be adequately prepared,” he said.Mr Odinga, who was also accompanied by Privatisation Commission chairman Paul Otuoma on Monday, attributed the dwindling fortunes of State-owned factories to mismanagement and corruption.“We have agreed that a permanent solution to this problem must be found, and that is basically to privatise the millers and see how strategic investors can be brought in to partner with the national and county governments,” he said during the meeting at his Capitol Hill office, Nairobi.But Mr Busolo pointed out that the government should relinquish its stake in the millers and let private entities manage them.“Farmers have suffered for far too long because of inefficiencies in State-owned mills and prefer dealing with private ones. Just like other sectors, the sugar industry should be left to self-regulate and conform to the dynamics of demand and supply,” he said.The farmers have also expressed their opposition to cane zoning, merger of factories as well as discarding of the long delayed draft crops (sugar) general regulations.Among other issues, the farmers resolved that the industry should be deregulated through deletion of sugarcane from the First Schedule of the 2013 Crops Act.

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