Trouble has erupted at the Busia Sugar Industries (BSI) Company between farmers and the management over the company hiring plain clothes police officers allegedly from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to harass and intimidate the farmers.
The farmers are up in-arms against the BSI management accusing it of abusing the power of its colossal financial resources to harass, intimidate and stop them from fighting for their rights after they wrote a protest communication that was copied to government officials, leaders, stakeholders and leaders documenting their woes and demands.
It was signed complete with the identification cards and telephone numbers of the out-grower farmers’ leaders who are now directly being targeted by the alleged DCI operatives from Busia County where the miller is based as the only industrial concern in the county.
At stake are vast swathes of sugarcane farms with the raw material valued at millions of shillings in the last one and half years alone denied but translated into losses to the cane farmers for which now the alleged DCI operatives are intimidating the farmers with allegations of plotting to burn down the sugar factory after which BSI management allegedly bribe them off with a token of Kshs. 1, 000 to 2000 for transport back home from grilling sessions at the factory’s police station.
They claim the miller has trashed their contracts and failed to harvest their sugarcane for processing at the miller’s sugar factory located at Busibwabo market in Matayos sub-county – leaving them with over-age, rotten or firewood dried raw material and unpaid production costs in loans on the contracted farmers’ farms for a period of nearly five years since they begun producing the crop.
The letter addressed to the BSI Managing Director Ali Ahmed Taib in part reads: “The biggest problem here is that the miller has chosen to buy the raw material from brokers for as little as Kshs. 3, 500 instead of the government recommended producer price of Kshs. 4, 040 per tonne.”
It goes on: “We invested heavily in the production of this crop under contract with BSI, but he is now dealing with sugarcane thieves from as far as Kabras in Kakamega County and smugglers from Uganda to make profits at our expense yet we stood with him in his endless legal battles trying to stop construction of this sugar milling facility”.
The letter was copied to agriculture Cabinet Secretary Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, the Agriculture Fisheries and Food Authority (AFFA) Boss, Kello Harsama, Busia County Governor Sospeter Ojaamong among others.
The farmers clearly state in the letter that they were demanding for the miller to meet his contractual obligations with his contracted farmers and stop dealing with the cane brokers and smugglers that could easily lead to the collapse of the only factory in Busia County like the country’s giant miller Mumias Sugar did a few years ago because farmers stopped cane production over a more than Kshs. 3.5 billion they were owed for cane delivered.
Apart from that the farmers led by the Western Development Initiative Association (WEDIA) boss, Joseph Barasa said that the brokers are instead creating a situation in which they are literally stealing the raw material from farmers at as little as Kshs. 1, 500 tonne or less and getting away with it after the BSI management refused to harvest and transport it to the factory for milling.
Asked whether company had hired the DCI operatives and were being used by the miller to harass and intimidate farmers to pander to the company interests, the CEO Mr. Taib said: “I don’t think so. We are just carrying out business as usual as any business entity will do. We are also protecting our business interests as any business entity to stay afloat.”
Pressed to comment on the concerns of the letter (in our possession) raised by the aggrieved cane farmers, Taib said that was ‘an internal business matter that cannot be addressed through the media which also conducts its business in its own way.’
The CEO is on record publicly telling the media that as a business entity, BSI will not shed off the brokers and smugglers but will buy the raw material from the market on a “willing seller, willing buyer basis at prices dictated by the supply demand forces to stay in business to market profits with a harvesting programme to take care of its contracted farmers’ interests.”
He also declined to respond to queries why the BSI management had trashed with its cane contracted farmers like IMA, Agroline, Shiva among others and grounded its own transport fleet to transport the harvested raw material from its contracted farmers’ farms to the factory for processing.
However, above all declined to state the company’s cane development engagement programmes with the farmers every year to ensure that there was no shortage of the raw material supplies for milling that inevitably led to the deadly sugarcane poaching problem that has literally brought the industry to its knees or near collapse.