First, it was Migori sugarcane farmer who faced the burden of the poor crop prices amid the ever skyrocketing farm inputs. Then followed tobacco and maize growers, who could not find good markets for their produce.
The end result, according to the local agricultural experts, is the diminishing agricultural activities and rise in poverty levels among the population in the region.
Production of all the three crops, formerly the bed rock of the residents’ source of income, is at the lowest ebb at the moment contrary to the past years.
Despite the residents having invested in the growing of sugarcane for years, many are still living in ramshackle houses and are unable to fend for their families in terms of food, school fees and good healthcare.
Many lament that their problems have been triggered by the intense exploitation by sugar millers who have been paying them peanuts for their produce, disregarding the cost of investment they usually incur in their farms.
I have grown this crop for close to two decades and my income has been nil due to serious exploitation by the management of South Nyanza Sugar (Sony) Company that has refused to increase prices and subsidize the price of farm inputs for farmers, said Mr. Peter Otieno, a sugarcane farmer in the Awendo Sugar belt.
However, Mrs. Monika Midamba, a long time sugarcane farmer in central Kanyamkago location of Uriri Sub County, puts it plainly that she has stopped growing the crop due to problems she has faced in the past.
Why should you continue growing the crop when what you earned is dried cane due to delayed cane harvests, she posed during recent interview.
According to survey by KNA, about 4000 farmers out of the 10,000 contracted by the South Nyanza Sugar (Sony) Company have stopped growing the crop, indicating how fast sugarcane is becoming a daredevil crop among the residents.
Sony and two other competing millers �Trans Mara Sugar Co and Sukari Industries are facing a serious shortage of raw material in the wake of a serious lack of matured cane.
The factories are all operating under their capacities because of lack of cane to crash and face closure if the trend continues in the coming months, said a farmers’ union official Mr. John Omala.
Like sugarcane, tobacco growing is also in its deathbed especially after two leaf buying companies withdrew their activities from the region.
Alliance One, an international leaf buying and cigarette making firm closed shop and relocated to South Africa last year, citing poor business in the region.
Likewise, Master Mind Tobacco Kenya (MTK) Company was booted out of the region last year after being accused of allegedly stealing crop worth Sh.76 million from farmers.
Only British American Tobacco (BAT) Company has been left to buy the huge tons of tobacco produced in the region. Last year, the company was unable to buy all the crop produced causing a huge loss in Millions of shillings to farmers in terms wasted crop.
Many farmers have since abandoned growing the crop due to its low prices and exploitation perpetrated by the leaf firms.
In the past, health experts and political leaders led by Migori Senator Dr. Wilfred Machage have campaigned against growing of the crop, citing health issues.
Tobacco has been identified as a dangerous crop to the health of farmers � from growing to curing times. Farmers exposed themselves to the danger of becoming sick from the toxic pesticides and other farm inputs used during the growing of the crop.
The firms have not been supplying farmers with appropriate protective kits and in the process they contract very dangerous diseases with no good returns, says Mr. Noel Otieno, a clinician at the Migori District hospital.
The crop is also a big health hazard to farmers who are exposed to toxic gasses during curing process in the tobacco kilns.
A part from that, the crop has been identified as a big contributor to environmental degradation since farmers are required to harvest tons of wood fuel towards curing the produced leaf.
The anti-tobacco crusaders also blame the crop for the region’s dwindling land fertility following the use of fertilisers and other chemicals during the planting treatment of the crop.
Maize farmers are not spared either in the sorry script dogging tobacco and sugarcane farmers in the area.
From poor prices to lack of market and to high cost of farm inputs, the poor farmer is left to earn nothing from his efforts to produce maize in the area.
The presence of brokers in the maize sector has also done a big blow to the hardworking farmers who are forced to sell their crops at throw away prices to the cartels.
Because of the delays in payments for produce delivered to the semi-autonomous National Cereal and Produce Board (NCPB) deports, farmers are forced to sell their produce cheaply to middlemen who pay far below the expected price, said an agricultural officer James Maloba.
However, efforts to replace the three crops with more lucrative ones have also hit the wall. Experts and investors have tried introducing Sunflower, Coffee, Tea, bee keeping and a host of other crops but with little success.
Despite the good climate, fertile soil and the general environment for the alternative crops to thrive in the region, farmers have been so cautious to embrace them fulltime doubting the assurance of the ready markets for them.
While the flight from growing sugarcane, tobacco and maize has been intense, the uptake of the alternative crops has also been very slow, leaving the local people confused.
It is therefore the responsibility of all stakeholders to come up with alternative crops that will cost less in growing high yield earnings to farmers.
Source: Kenya News Agency