Bit­ter-Sweet Ex­pe­ri­ence of an Ex - Cane Farmer................................................

Diplomat East Africa - - Table of Contents -

There is lit­tle hope in Kenya’s ail­ing sugar in­dus­try and the only way out is for farm­ers to quit. DR GEORGE ODERA - OUTA ex­plains why

The plight of Kenya’s Sugar cane farmer is in­ces­santly in the news th­ese days. It is a blas­phemy of sorts. The last­ing so­lu­tion, though, can­not be found in fir­ing man­agers from Mu­mias or Muhoroni or the gov­ern­ment do­ing the po­lit­i­cal thing where some few hun­dred mil­lions of shillings are doled out when­ever there is volatile pres­sure.

Up­front, I strongly rec­om­mend try­ing out an in­de­pen­dent re­search to es­tab­lish just why our millers cite such in­flated pro­duc­tion costs. My in­formed sus­pi­cion is that costs in Kenya are bal­looned and sim­ply based on dan­ger­ous guess work. But if we be for­given for ever be­lit­tling em­piri­cism, the more sober­ing rec­om­men­da­tion to fel­low farm­ers is this: Let sugar cane grow­ing be a to­tal no go zone. To ap­pre­ci­ate why I make this pos­tu­la­tion, some lit­tle back­ground is needed.

In 2004, I was part of the Kenyan team charged with the or­gan­i­sa­tion of a cru­cial African Caribbean and Pa­cific (ACP) Min­is­te­rial Con­fer­ence de­voted to Sugar cane grow­ing in ACP coun­tries. That con­fer­ence ran in Kisumu for about one week and it does re­mind me that a sim­i­lar Min­is­te­rial vol­ley in Nairobi this year was clearly not the first time such con­sul­ta­tions have been held within our bor­ders. For those of us who were priv­i­leged to par­tic­i­pate in that Kisumu con­sul­ta­tion, the clear mes­sage by the Euro­pean Union was that the fu­ture for sugar lay, only in In rec­ol­lec­tion, other than Mu­mias Sugar, none of the Cap­tains of In­dus­try (all who had been in­vited) were even will­ing to just sec­ond guess those fu­ture al­ter­na­tives.

Then as now, we were sim­ply ob­sessed with the rather tired call for a longer “grace pe­riod.” Ten years down the line, same old rut. We may have cho­sen to be com­pletely obliv­i­ous of how the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion ( WTO) has also com­pletely re-en­gi­neered the in­ter­na­tional trad­ing regime and how in par­tic­u­lar, hith­erto “rich” coun­tries must now dic­tate how they con­duct agri­cul­tural trade and even oth­ers.

But the sit­u­a­tion in Kenya is clearly ag­gra­vated by fac­tors most of us in­vest­ing in that bot­tom­less pit should by now, have ac­cepted and “moved on”. The re­al­ity is that we are sur­rounded by coun­tries whose per-capita-cost for sugar pro­duc­tion is far cheaper.

In a coun­try that has ev­ery of­ten set un­en­vi­able record on cor­rupt ways of do­ing business, there is no rocket sci­ence in know­ing that such cheap sugar from Su­dan or Malawi (let alone Tan­za­nia or Uganda) would al­ways flood our lo­cal mar­kets. Thus when you bring on board the un­touch­able car­tels in Kenya, it sure is a mir­a­cle to ex­pect the more “ex­pen­sive” Kenyan millers to sur­vive!

In in­ter­na­tional trade terms,

DIS­IL­LU­SIONED:

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