The closure of the giant Mumias Sugar Company due to lack of raw materials should not have happened as the alarm on sugarcane poaching crisis was sounded more than three years ago when it hit the region the consequences of the crisis being inevitable.
The main poaching target was Mumias Sugar company contracted farmers as Nzoia and Butali Sugar Companies were also caught in the cross-fire. It is a well-known fact that the crisis was triggered by yet another miller in the region, the West Kenya Sugar Company which had pushed to the wall-it had no raw materials.
The bottom line being the fact that since inception under the initial owner, the late Biku Patel in 1978, West Kenya unlike all the other sugar companies in the region did not have contracted farmers – It also did not engage them in the sugarcane development programmes yet all these were mandatory as per the then old laws governing the sub-sector.
The entry of Tajveer Rai who happens to be owners of the Eldoret based giant timber dealing firm Raiply Company as well as owners of West Kenya headquartered at Kabras only worsened the situation following the entry in its immediate neighbourhood of Butali Sugar Company with its own contracted farmers. The private farmers who were being exploited by West Kenya flooded to Butali Sugar to supply it with the raw material.
The then Kenya Sugar Authority (KSA) that regulated the sub-sector also ensured the enforcement of the regulations requiring the millers to engage sugarcane farmers on contractual basis and (millers) be directly involved in sugarcane development programmes financed by the Sugarcane Development Fund Controlled by that Authority, followed by the Kenya Sugar Board and now the Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Authority (AFFA).
Mumias sugar has in the region according to AFFA always had the largest number of contracted sugarcane farmers in any given year spread across the counties of Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia and siaya with Nzoia and Butali sharing parts of Bungoma and Kakamega Counties respectively.
All these contracted farmers had their own sugarcane farmers’ outgrower companies like Mumias Outgrowers Company (MOCO), Nzoia Outgrowers Company (NOCO), Butali Sugar Outgrowers (BSOL) and the Busia Outgrowers Company (BOCO) whose farmers were contracted to the defunct Busia Sugar Company but officially legally taken over by Mumias Sugar.
It is from this background that the sugarcane poaching alarm was sounded in the year 2011 by Western Development Initiative Association (WEDIA), Mumias Sugar, Nzoia, Butali, the Kenya Sugarcane Growers Association (KESGA) among other stakeholders since the situation was getting out of hand and violent to boot.
This was an alarm that was to stem a crisis that had become a tide that was threatening to develop into a storm and erupt into a hurricane that would level to the ground all that had been developed in the sugar industry since the 1970s.
The stakeholders also sounded the alarm to pressurize the government agencies and KSB the then regulatory authority to immediately step in and stem the tide because West Kenya had gone on rampage poaching sugarcane from farmers contracted to her competitors Butali, Nzoia and the worst hit being Mumias because it is the largest consumer of the raw material annually.
Whereas Nzoia, Butali and West Kenya are still using the old milling technology, Mumias Sugar uses the ultra-modern diffuser technology whose daily sugarcane tonnage consumption rates in processing per day are more than five times of the remaining millers.
It should be recalled that the situation degenerated so badly at one time into extremely deadly violent confrontations that left scores of people dead, injured and property destroyed as those whose contracted farmers tried to defend themselves after the government and the Kenya Sugar Board failed to execute their mandates and the situation has never improved even after AFFA took over from KSB but continued to degenerate.
The case to emphasize how the situation has worsened and continues to degenerate ironically is found in Busia County which does not have any factory and has been crying for a sugar factory since the early 1990s.
It is in this county where the sugarcane poaching erupted into a battle ground that continues to rage with the emergence of two brand new sugar factories in their finishing stages all demanding for the same scarce raw material which ironically is still bought cheaply from the farmers breaching their contracts with millers.
The Busia County cane poaching battleground has since seen the construction of two sugar factories one under controversial circumstances not approved by AFFA, NEMA and other government agencies being West Kenya Sugar Company also known as Kabras Millers at Olepito area less than 50 metres from the Busia – Mumias highway.
According to a letter signed by the former AFFA boss Rosemary Mkok to the company Managing Director Tajveer Rai, by constructing that facility which is near completion West Kenya was flouting the laid down regulations and rules since it had not even applied to AFFA nor NEMA for clearance to start construction.
That is despite the matter having gone all the way to the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture through a petition filed by WEDIA, the committee investigating what was ailing the sub-sector more than two years ago through Parliament failed to debate and pass the sugar report to date after being tabled.
Perhaps this report could have salvaged the situation that appears to be showing no signs of respite. Indeed there have been accusations and counter accusations that some legislators were compromised not only to doctor but also to sabotage it from being tabled in parliament but there has been no proof for that.
The first factory in Busia County that is also nearing completion was started by Africapolysac now named Busia Sugar Industries and is constantly plagued by swarms of litigations against its construction engineered by West Kenya.
Indeed West Kenya’s factory is being built within the 47 kilometer radius of Busia Sugar Industries catchment area as required by law, which may pose further conflict between the two. BSI is being constructed at Busibwabo on the earth road connecting Mundika town and Nambale on the Busia – Mumias highway.
It must not be forgotten that Mumias Sugar has large numbers of contracted sugarcane farmers in the county most of whom have been targets and victims of the poaching crisis that has brought Mumias Sugar to its knees having made first entry as West Kenya tries for the first time to contract its own with stiff competition from Busia Sugar Industries.
All these developments mean increased extremely high demand for sugarcane to be processed by these starving facilities, yet according to the statistics released by AFFA during the last financial year, sugarcane production not only in the region but throughout the country had drastically dropped.
This was attributed mostly to a sharp decline in sugarcane development programmes across the country, low morale among farmers leading to migration to grow other crops and the ongoing sugarcane poaching crisis that is – directly infighting among the millers and worse still high production costs of the crop most of which are dumped on the farmers.
The soils in Busia County are still considered highly virgin in cane production with higher yield potential per acre compared to that in neighbouring counties of Kakamega and Bungoma that have been farming the crop since the 1970s and it is this potential that the battle for the highly increased demand for sugarcane is expected to boil to a breaking point in the county now that it has two new factories.
With this state of affairs raging in the sub-sector particularly the former western province which houses the largest sugar producer in the country compared to all the rest combined, the battle lines are clearly drawn for the mother of all battles for the very survival of individual millers whose consequences may prove to be extremely disastrous in the not far off future.