AGRIBUSINESS: Workers union defends field officers

KUSPAWU Kabras branch Secretary Jeremiah Akhonya in his office. PHOTO/Andanje Wakhungu.

There has been a public outcry by farmers over bribery claims to acquire a permit for harvesting canes.

But a workers union has come out to defend accused supervisors over the allegations terming it as malicious.

The Kenya Union of Sugar Plantations and Allied Workers Union (KUSPAWU), a body formed to advocate for the rights of agricultural extension, field assistants and field officers said farmers were the ones to blame for bribing the officials to get quick services despite delayed permitting being an issue that is being handled by the factory and the union at large.

The KUSPAWU branch secretary Jeremiah Akhonya attributed the delay to too much ready cane to be harvested beyond the crushing capacity of the millers.

“We are aware of the situation and we are doing all we can to normalize everything. There is too much raw material to be crushed and that is due to unexpected long rains throughout last year hence all the canes grew very fast,” he said.

Akhonya added that the millers’ idea to expand their cane catchment areas was also to blame for the delayed permits crisis.

He singled out West Kenya which has erected a weighbridge in Chemilil, Misikhu, Magut, Busia and on the border of Kisumu and Kericho counties that collects cane before being transported to the factory.

“This means that we have expanded the catchment area of the factory in terms of raw materials but we have not expanded our crushing capacity to meet the supply hence we are not able to mill as fast as we harvest and that is what is causing delays,” he said.

Although Butali Sugar has done some expansion on its mills, it is yet to do much on the process house and hence it cannot crush more than what the processor house can handle the syrup.

On the other hand, West Kenya has done some expansion that has seen now two mills crushing more than 6,000 tons per day but the processor house limits the crushing capacity respectively.

The hindrances being experienced are due to the low crushing capacity and this has led to the factories limiting the amount of raw materials coming in.

So the issue of field assistants delaying permits is not their making but it is regulated and dictated by the crushing capacity of the factories.

At West Kenya, the company has expanded its transport sector by bringing in new fleets (over100) tractors out of which 30 were taken to Misikhu, with Magut also receiving the same number to improve in transporting canes faster to the factory.

Another reason for delayed permitting is after West Kenya acquired huge chunks of cane lands in Chemilil, Dominion farm in Siaya, Trans Nzoia (Noah Wekesa farm) that once harvesting begins it will run for the factory for two months nonstop.

The union urged the country’s leadership to push West Kenya into putting up another factory unit in Dominion farm Siaya to service the farmers within that vicinity as it was their idea when they purchased the land. 

“We are also still pushing for the Naitiri factory to start its operations as soon as possible as it will give farmers some reprieve in acquiring permits but the most important one is the Dominion one which is over 15,000 hectares where the management had suggested to setup a factory and now the canes from those lands they purchased have matured and needs to be harvested.”

However he warned of a major showdown between the farmers and the millers if the two factories are not established and operational to ease congestion being experienced as the millers continue to harvest outside canes.

As Kakamega cane farmers continue to suffer at the expense of the expanded catchment areas farmers canes, the union is seeking to meet Senator Cleophas Malala over the issue so that they can sit and deliberate.

The union official further pointed out the need to liberalize the industry to allow new players come in after the exit of Mumias which was a major crushing company  as its canes from Mumias, Bunyala, Navakholo all end up in West Kenya factory totally overwhelming its crushing capacity.

Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya has been urged to continue pushing for the revival of Mumias sugar as it will play a big role in salvaging the stalemate being witnessed by the millers. 

Harvesting of cane at Malinya farm in Kakamega County underway. PHOTO/Courtesy.

The union took a swipe at the management of West Kenya for losing touch with their farmers accusing them of failing to meet and address the issue on the ground amicably.

Since West Kenya realized there was more canes to harvest, it has withdrawn all the farmer incentives it used to offer and instead resolved to mistreating them at equal measure and this is where they are going wrong as many of these farmers will decide to uproot the crop and invest in alternative cash crops hence disable the industry, and there is a time when the miller will need the farmers unlike now when the factory cannot give them advance loans to pay school fees among other emergency needs.

The bigger predicament the farmers are engulfed in is, not knowing where the miller is harvesting canes as both local and outside farmers continue to complain bitterly.

Akhonya noted that the two companies were not serving farmers to their satisfaction due to lack of farmers associations west Kenya Sugar Company limited (Wekscol) and Butali out growers farmers association which were scrapped un ceremonially through the dubious hidden hands of the millers.

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