Written by Rosemary Wachiye
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Bungoma County’s sole economy booster Nzoia Sugar Company is among the many companies that have come up as a result of relocating residents to create room for its establishment.
Nzoia Sugar Company was established in 1975, with the exit of a huge number of residents from Nzoia area most of whom were resettled in Trans Nzoia to pave way for the putting up of the first government owned sugar milling factory in the country.
The sacrifice of the land owners, who were evicted from their ancestral homes 34 years ago, will forever be a back bone in Bungoma County’s history since the start of operation of the factory in 1978.
The 3,600 hectares of free land was later turned into a sugar factory and the rest is now occupied into sugarcane nuclear estate for the factory contributing to 20% of its annually processed cane while 80% of the sugarcane comes from 23,000 hectares of out grower’s sugar cane estates.
A section of the 3,600 hectares of the Nzoia Sugar Company that also has the sugar plant and schools. [Photo | Rosemary Wachiye]
With the earliest maturing variety of cane, of 16 months, 18 months and 24 months, the nuclear estate is planted in stages to ensure consistent cane production for milling.
According to the Public Relations Officer at the factory Mr. Joseph Kawa, up to date Nzoia contributes Sh. 24 Billion to the revenue of Bungoma County annually as well as providing economic activity and employment to most residents in the county with over 50,000 farmers and 8,300 workers dependent on it for livelihood and economic empowerment.
Nzoia contributes to over 1,000 Km of infrastructure of the county through construction and maintenance of roads in the rural set up where they develop their cane.
It has prioritized social amenity to the people by setting up schools; Nzoia Sugar Primary Industrial Primary and Nzoia Girls Secondary and also through improving and innovating infrastructure in schools found along its sugar belt.
Many communities in the region have now access to free clean water from the 11 wells dug by the factory in the out growers region.
However, despite its outstanding contribution to its farmers and residents who have contributed to its growth, most farmers are still living below the average economic class while some are even at poverty level.
Mr. Kawa explains that for all to benefit from the sugarcane farming, it’s up to the farmers to take cane farming as a business venture and not just a routine exercise.
“Farmers need to take sugarcane as a cash crop and not a food crop, as some of them may have been overwhelmed by the numerous estates of cane around the region and want just to joy ride but at the end of the day they need to earn a living from it,” said Mr.Kawa.
Read: Focus on cane development in the entire Western region
He advises that for cane farming to be profitable, the farmers should have large pieces of land and not land below 2 hectares as it might be too costly for a farmer in inputs but with very little output.
However, Kawa explains that the biggest setback in cane farming has been the cultural sub division of land among kinsmen due to population growth that lead to most of them owning small portions and still calls for good cane husbandry practices and consultation from field extension staff.
Cane tractors at the Nzoia Sugar Factory weigh bridge.
Competition brought by free and borderless market through COMESA which has contributed to the free flow of commodities has also been a challenge as other competitors in the market had not planned for raw materials and end up poaching from them.
Nzoia is proud of its supportive and loyal farmers who have tirelessly worked to ensure that it has the best and highest sucrose content of sugar in the country and that it never experiences shortage of cane due to its big nuclear estates.
Despite its set back, it’s determined to remain strong in the market through investing in latest technological machine of cane processing to cut down on cost of production and still remain relevant in the ever changing technological world.
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