The once vibrant sugar industry is on its deathbed. When sugarcane farming thrived, towns such as Chemelil, Ramisi, Miwani, Nzoia and Mumias were full of life. Today, they are a pale shadow of their former selves.
As of 2018, Kenya’s domestic sugar production could only satisfy half of the consumption needs. Local sugar mills produced 491,097 tonnes, 57 per cent of the domestic consumption that currently stands at 850,000 tonnes.
A recent report compiled by a task force formed by President Uhuru Kenyatta on the sugar sector paints a grim picture that has left many farmers in despair. The task force notes that the public firms are in serious financial distress, owing billions in debt.
Farmers are wallowing in poverty after most millers failed to pay for supplied cane. Previous attempts to revive struggling millers flopped due to political interference and numerous court cases, pushing them further into financial distress.
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For the millers to rise from their woes, capital injection is needed urgently and privatisation may be the solution. It should be done to enable the companies upgrade their equipment and get necessary funds to pay farmers.
But this process has been marred with controversy as the sugarcane growing counties wanted a share of the cake in sugar millers’ ownership.
As the privatisation process drags on, the millers are thinning day by day. Time to act is now to save the millers and farmers, and bring back to life to the struggling towns.