April 25th 2017

Business / Markets

Mumias, Nzoia sugar companies clash as cane shortage bites in Western belt

“Mumias managers know well that they are harvesting in our zone and we won’t allow it. They are using goons and police officers to harass our farmers. If they continue with that trend we will also be forced to handle them as they come."

By Free Press Correspondentnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comFriday, 19 Aug 2016 18:58 EAT

Underproduction of the sugarcane crop in Western Kenya has plunged the region into a security crisis, with rival milling firms hiring vigilante groups to protect cane harvested from farmers outside their contracted zones. Mumias Sugar Company, the largest and for decades the most profitable miller in Kenya, is most affected.

Unable to source sufficient cane crop from within its expansive nucleus in Butere Mumias, the company, which has suffered the weight of mismanagement in recent years, it has been forced to buy the raw materials from farmers in Bungoma County who are contracted to supply the smaller Nzoia Sugar Company.

The two firms have wrangled over rights to the Bungoma millers for two weeks since the cash-strapped Mumias began sourcing the commodity from there. Disputes between the firms have resulted in physical fights and injuries to staff members and suspected goons apparently hired by the firms to safeguard their respective interests.

Last week, the cabinet secretary for Agriculture, Willy Bett visit was needless; neither easing tensions nor offering any solutions . Officials of the Nzoia Sugar Company this week declared war against Mumias Sugar, alleging that the latter’s continued purchase of the crop in Bungoma has the potential to destabilize the entire industry.

The chairman of the board of Nzoia Sugar, former MP Joash Wamang'oli, told the Free Press: “Mumias managers know well that they are harvesting in our zone and we won’t allow it. They are using goons and police officers to harass our farmers. If they continue with that trend we will also be forced to handle them as they come."

While Mumias Sugar has attributed its purchases from Bungoma to underproduction in the Butere-Mumias belt, some of its contracted farmers from the area say they have cane which the miller has refused to purchase due to huge arrears for previous deliveries it is yet to pay.

Hundreds of farmers staged day-long protests at Harambee in Mumias on Wednesday to protest the firm’s failure to pay them for past deliveries. They barricaded the busy Mumias-Kakamega road, lighting bonfires at the Harambee shopping center and paralyzing traffic for hours.

The farmers alleged that Mumias, which has got more than Sh1.8 billion in government bailouts over the last year, owed them payments running into millions of shillings. The main organiser Oliver Shiundu accused the company of “using dirty tricks” to avoid meeting its obligations.

“They have not paid our old supply of cane as instructed by the president when he ordered the government bailout. But we are telling the company that there is no shortcut; it has to deal with us," he said.

“The problem here is not short supply, our farmers are not keen to supply the company while their previous deliveries have not been paid,” said the chairman.

Mr Wamang'oli of Nzoia said that if Mumias had no cane of its own, the logical thing to was to halt its operations and develop its own cane instead of destabilizing operations of other millers.

A spokesman for Mumias Sugar Company, Moses Owino, denied that the company owed any farmers saying their payment was up to date. “We have paid our farmers up to date, if there is any case outstanding that is an isolated case, and we can invite such farmers to our offices we sort out the matter,” he said.

Mr Owino also denied that Mumias was poaching cane from Nzoia, maintaining that the fact they were harvesting cane from Bungoma County didn't mean they were poaching cane. “We also have contracted farmers on the other side, we do due diligence before harvesting any cane," he told the Free Press.

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