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Sugarcane farmers in anguish as State fails to give Sh2.6bn

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By SHABAN MAKOKHA
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When President Kenyatta directed Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and his Treasury counterpart Henry Rotich to release Sh2.6 billion to pay farmers within a month, it was all smiles in sugarcane growing zones.

But the smiles have been replaced with groans as the 10,000-plus cane growers have not received their dues despite the president’s order.

During this year’s Mashujaa Day celebrations in Kakamega, President Kenyatta directed that growers be paid their arrears within a month.

Many had looked forward to treating their families during Christmas and saving some cash for their children’s school fees, come January, but they now tell different stories.

“I am a worried man because I don’t have any other source of income to pay school fees for my children,” said Mr Febias Opetu from Mumias.

“I sold all my cows this year to pay fees and was banking on President Kenyatta’s announcement to settle the balance.”

He has two sons in college and three others in secondary school.

Mr Opetu is owed more than Sh120,000 by the cash-strapped Mumias Sugar Company for the cane he delivered in 2016.

He is among the many who since November 20 — the date they were promised to receive payment in their banks — have been travelling to Mumias town to check their accounts for their dues.

Amani National Congress party leader Musalia Mudavadi, Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa and Butere legislator Tindi Mwale have expressed displeasure at the delay in settling the farmers’ dues.

Mr Mudavadi asked the Agriculture CS to explain why the funds have not reached the farmers two months after the President’s directive.

“The announcement was an executive order by the president so we expected the minister to comply. Why is it taking ages?” Mr Mudavadi posed.

Speaking at Buchenya grounds in Butere during the finals of the Mwale Tournament, Mr Mudavadi dismissed the task force the president formed to look into ways of reviving the sugar sector.

“I advised Mr Kenyatta to do away with the task force and form a commission of inquiry to look into the mess and streamline the sugar sector. But he ignored my advice. What farmers are experiencing now is what I expected of the task force,” he said.

Mr Mudavadi said the commission would have investigated and named cartels that imported the contraband sugar that led to the collapse of local millers.

“The task force lacks these mandates and cannot end the crises in the sector,” he added.

The politician further accused the government of lacking commitment to revive the under-performing sector, claiming that the findings of task forces are never made public and that their recommendations are always ignored.

“This is what I can foresee coming from the sugar task force that is supposed to revive the ailing industry. I don’t have faith in this task force at all,” he said.

During a funeral at Ekama Village in Mumias, Mr Echesa challenged Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Senator Cleophas Malala to explain their roles in the task force if they cannot push for prompt payment of the farmers’ arrears.

“Kakamega, which is the leading county in sugar production, has two key leaders in the task force. We thought they would hasten the payment but it seems they are in the committee to represent their own interests,” Mr Echesa said.

The sugar task force is jointly chaired by Mr Oparanya and CS Kiunjuri.

Mr Mwale urged Mr Kiunjuri to tell farmers when they will be paid so that they can stop guessing.

“After the president issued the directive that all debts owed to farmers should be cleared, the Ministry of Agriculture responded by telling farmers that they will be paid before Christmas, but five days after Christmas, this promise has not been honoured,” Mr Mwale said.

He said that by April, there will be plenty of cane in Mumias and that farmers will be frustrated if Mumias Sugar Company will not be up and running by then.

Senator Malala, a member of the task force, said they were still removing unscrupulous farmers from the registers.

He assured the growers that they will get their money once the vetting is over.

The senator dismissed statements from a section of leaders, saying, they were meant to incite farmers against the task force.

“There are some players who may want the task force to fail so that the blame game continues. I implore farmers to remain patient as their leaders are in charge,” he said.

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