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Cane farmers accuse State of ignoring them on reforms

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A crane offloads sugarcane from a tractor. FILE PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI 

Sugarcane farmers have accused the government of sidelining them in the ongoing discussions to reform the sector and using millers to exploit them.

The farmers, who have formed a parallel team to present their views to President Uhuru Kenyatta reiterated that they will not allow zoning to be sneaked in as part of the sugar regulations.

They accused Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri of establishing a 16-member task force without considering the farmers who form critical part in the sector.

“The task force assembled is a sham and amounts to the government, talking to itself, investigating itself and concluding by itself,” said Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers (KNFSF) National Treasurer Stephen Narupa.

The farmers who presented their petition to Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o’s office Tuesday picked former chairman of the defunct Kenya Sugar Board, Saulo Busolo, as the person to spearhead their grievances.

“We have decided to form a farmer-led task force to ensure that the rights of farmers are enshrined and will present our report to the President through Agriculture CS within 30 days,” he said shortly after delivering their petition.

“Farmers have the right to sell cane to whoever they want whenever and wherever they are,” added Mr Busolo.

He said attempts to restrict farmers was a breach of the constitution and defies the reason for the establishment of the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB), which opens trade for member counties.
Mr Narupa blamed the government of controversially appointing Francis Waswa despite having been suspended by the federation.

“As farmers, we ought to have been involved to ensure that we have a representative who is keen to push our agenda,” he said.

The farmers, who spoke under the umbrella body of the Kenya National Alliance of Sugarcane Farmers Organisations (KNASFO), appointed Mr Busolo as the interim chair.

It comprises the KNFSF, Kenya National Sugarcane Growers Association (KESGA),Kenya Association of Sugarcane Farmers and Allied Products and Sugar Campaign for Change, a civil society.

KESGA secretary general Richard Ogendo accused the government-appointed task force of failing to invite established farmers’ organisations and using the millers to invite stakeholders as a way of rubberstamping some of the undesirable clauses.

“It is suspicious that the stakeholders’ consultative meetings have been scheduled to take place at the premises of sugar millers, which is a tactic of ensuring that only people who are considered friendly will be invited,” he said.

According to the timetable, the sugar task force will be having discussions with stakeholders from January 14 to 18.

Mr Busolo, on his part, said they will carry out consultative approach through farmers meetings, engaging Kenyan and international sugar industry experts, business and media players in order to secure divergent views.

Meanwhile, the farmers have called on President Kenyatta to fast track the payment of the Sh2.6 billion as directed by President Kenyatta last year.

Kisumu Deputy Governor Mathews Owili who received their petition assured them that their issues will be adequately addressed.

Efforts by LREB chief executive officer Abala Wanga to defend the position of the task force failed after the protesting farmers shouted down on him and forced him to cut his speech.

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