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