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Bitter Christmas for sugarcane farmers as promised pay delays



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Sugarcane framers are staring at a broke Christmas following revelations that the Sh2.6 billion pay they were promised may not materialise any time soon.

President Uhuru Kenyatta during Mashujaa Day celebrations in Kakamega directed that growers be paid the arrears within a month.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, who later promised that producers would get their money ‘before Christmas’, did not respond to a Sunday Nation follow-up on the pledge. He had pegged the timeline on completion of an audit on all farmers owed by State millers before payments commence.

Acting Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga, however, said the audit was yet to be completed meaning the Christmas pledge would not come through.

“We are still waiting for the audit by the National Treasury and the funds to be used to pay the farmers. That has not been completed and once we have the audit and the funds, then we can commence paying the sugar cane farmers,” Mr Boga said.

Attempts to get comments on the delay from Treasury Principal Secretary Kamau Thugge did not yield fruit.

The delay is not only bound to dampen celebrations of the farmers who are mostly based in rural areas where Christmas celebrations are traditionally centred, but also hit them hard in the month of January when school fees and several other obligations are expected to be met by them.

Mr Kiunjuri who made the Christmas pledge while unveiling a committee he had set up to vet the farmers afresh was keen to ensure that the right people were paid but now turns out to be the source of the long wait.

Debts owed by the sugar companies — Mumias, Sony, Nzoia, Muhoroni (also managing the defunct Miwani Sugar Company) and Chemelil — date back to 2014.

Chemelil acting managing director Gabriel Nyangweso, who could not confirm when the farmers would be paid, said the audit on the farmers owed by the miller had been completed in November and the two ministries (Treasury and Agriculture) was yet to verify the data.

“The verification audit was completed during the last week of November 2018. We are waiting for final concurrence from the ministries. No payment has been made. As to when payment will be made, I am not in a position to confirm,” Mr Nyangweso said.

State-owned millers had following the president’s directive asked farmers to submit details including names, bank accounts, plot numbers and amounts owed to them raising hopes of being paid.

The suggestion to have the farmers paid directly into their accounts from the Treasury had even raised more hopes for producers who rushed to submit the details and began the wait for the sweet billions.Muhoroni-based farmer Jeremiah Omolo told Sunday Nation that he had been promised by Chemelil Sugar Company that he would receive his payments on December 20th.

“I had been to the factory so many times until we were told we would be paid this month. Nothing seems to be happening yet and my biggest worry is how we can face the January expenditures. It is a real let down,” Mr Omolo, who supplied cane to the miller in April, said.

The 16-member task force co-chaired by Mr Kiunjuri and Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya, governors Anyang Nyong’o (Kisumu) and Okoth Obado (Migori), as well as MPs and senators from the sugar growing areas and other industry players was expected to work within 30 days.

Meanwhile, sugar cane farmers in Busia County are increasingly becoming concerned over delays to launch Busia Sugar Industries at Busibwabo in Matayos Constituency.

Despite the Sh5 billion factory acquiring a licence to start crushing cane last month after many years of legal tussles, the miller is yet to roar to life.

The permit was issued last month after Deputy President William Ruto toured the facility and ordered Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri to ensure the factory starts operations.

This was followed by test runs by engineers from Kenya and India who gave it the green light to start operations.

Led by Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers chairperson Ibrahim Juma, farmers said delays to commission the facility have subjected residents to despair.

“We were very hopeful when Deputy President Ruto toured the facility recently and ordered BSI to be given a licence but we are yet to see any meaningful progress,” said Mr Juma.

Farmers demanded to know what could be holding back the investor and when the factory will be commissioned.

“If there is a problem we need to be told. Rumours has it that rival firm may have lodged yet another case in the latest bid to sabotage BSI operations,” he said.

Mr Juma said they are tired of unfulfilled promises over the commissioning of the facility yet their crop continues to dry and rot in farms.

“We need to be told the truth on this issue to forge a way forward because some farmers have fallen behind on their loan repayments.”

Joseph Barasa, chairman of the Western Development Initiative Association (Wedia), said the region needs the factory more than any other thing to turn around its economy.