Busia farmers oppose KESMA request to lift ban on sugarcane importation

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Jerald Okoth, General Manager Olepito Sugar Factory

A move by the Kenya Sugar Manufacturers Association (KESMA) chairperson Jayanti Patel requesting the government to lift the ban on importation of sugarcane from Uganda has been vehemently condemned by some Millers and sugarcane farmers from Busia County.
Olepito sugar factory General Manager Jerald Okoth has distanced himself from the letter by Patel to the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya terming it as a betrayal to sugarcane farmers and some factories particularly in Busia County.

Patel who is the General Manager of Butali sugar factory in Kakamega County wrote to Munya requesting him to lift the ban on cane importation in favour of Busia Sugar Industry, saying Busia area is facing acute shortage of raw sugar. His letter dated 4th August 2020 read in part, “The miller has requested that the sugarcane ban be lifted with regards to the row cane for milling as they need to supplement their sources so as to be able to mill their capacity.” According to Okoth, Patel’s move is a scheme to kill local sugarcane production to benefit sugar cartels seeking to smuggle cheap sugar and cane from neighbouring Uganda at the expense of local farmers, “The same Patel and others were for zoning a few months ago but what has now changed? Has Uganda become part of Busia zone or it’s just a scheme which some people want to use to bring in cheap sugarcane instead of investing in local farmers?”

His sentiments were echoed by farmers from Busia County led by George Ikwaras and Amukura Central Ward representative Moses Ouma who slammed the Busia sugar Industry for shifting goal posts in a move they claimed was meant to benefit illegal importers, “There is no sugarcane shortage in the region, if there is any, it has been created by Busia Sugar Industry that has heavily relied on cheap importation from Uganda.” Okwara accused KESMA of working with cartels to fleece local cane farmers, adding that the firm reduced tonnage prices for farmers because it was importing from Uganda. Amukura Central MCA Moses Ouma who is also a cane farmer wondered why Busia Sugar Industries and Patel support importation of cane from Uganda. The farmers also questioned the awarding of business licensing and permit to Busia Sugar Industry yet it doesn’t invest in local cane development but rather imports cheap cane from Uganda which retails at Kshs 2,000 per tonnage compared to Kenya’s Kshs 3,700. “A tonne is Kshs 2000 in Uganda. If you allowed me to import, obviously I’ll take from Uganda thereby killing local production since local tonnage is Kshs 3,700.”
The farmers said they support CS Munya’s move to ban the importation of cheap sugar from Uganda, adding that only drought or famine can warrant importation of cane.
“There is a huge glut of sugarcane in Uganda and farmers are willing to dump their cane below their cost of production to recover anything they can,” said Ouma.
The called on the government to investigate operation licences of companies that don’t have cane.