Sugar Taskforce To Prioritize Payment Of Farmers’ Dues

The taskforce on the revival of the ailing sugar industry ordered by President Uhuru Kenyatta has bowed to pressure from farmers and suspended operations until the Sh. 2.6 billion debt owed to farmers is settled.

During a sitting with Members of Parliament (MPs), Senators and other elected leaders from the Sugar growing zones held in Kisumu on Tuesday, members of the task force led by Kakamega County Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati had a difficult time explaining the progress made by the taskforce which was formed in November 2018.

The leaders accused the taskforce of backtracking on the order issued by President Uhuru Kenyatta during 2018’s Jamhuri Day to urgently settle the farmers’ debt.

Oparanya who is also the Council of Governors’ Chairman stepped out of the meeting to talk to Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and later assured the over 20 legislators that the money shall be paid next week.

The CS has assured me that an audit of all the farmers has been concluded and the exchequer shall be released next week, he said.

The money, he added shall be paid directly to the farmers accounts to ensure that only genuine beneficiaries are paid.

Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa who attended the meeting said the delay was occasioned by scrutiny of the farmers’ record to weed out cartels.

Last year was a bad year for farmers. We all saw what happened with maize farmers and it was therefore necessary to reorganize the system to avoid a repeat of the same, he said.

Oparanya who co-chairs the 14 member taskforce with Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri announced that all operations of the taskforce including public participation meetings that had been organized to start on Wednesday January 16, 2019 have been put on hold until all the farmers have been paid.

During the heated meeting, some of the leaders openly told the taskforce to keep off their constituencies until the farmer’s debt is settled.

Don’t dare to come to Nzoia unless the farmers dues have been cleared, said Sirisia MP John Waluke.

Homa Bay Senator Moses Otieno Kajwang said the 30 days given to the taskforce to present their report was not enough to adequately address the issues ailing the sugar sector.

Kajwang requested for an extension of time to allow farmers, leaders and other stakeholders to give their input into the issues affecting their sector in order to come up with a tangible report.

The taskforce, he said, was not properly constituted adding that farmers who are disgruntled must be co-opted.

He further called for establishment of a legal framework to ensure that county governments were actively involved in the management of the sugar sector.

On Monday, a group of farmers staged demonstrations in Kisumu to protest against being left out of the sugar taskforce.

Led by former Kenya Sugar Board Chairman Saulo Busolo, the farmers formed a parallel taskforce to look into ways of reviving the sugar industry and shall present their report in 30 days.

Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala took issue with those advocating for zoning saying the move was likely to impoverish farmers and kill competition.

We want our farmers to be free to sell their sugarcane to a miller of their choice without necessarily being confined to millers who end up not paying them, he said.

Source: Kenya News Agency