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Kenya Moves to Save Collapsing Sugar Industry

Panafrican News Agency, 6 September 2000

NAIROBI, Kenya - In a move to pre-empt the recurrence of the current unprecedented sugar crisis in Kenya, the parliament has proposed a draft bill to liberalise the sugar sector and empower farmers to take full charge of the business.

The draft bill has already been vetted by the agriculture, lands and natural resources committee ahead of the house debate.

Committee chairman Wycliffe Osundwa told PANA in Nairobi Wednesday that the bill, if passed into law, will rationalise the sugar sector, giving farmers a wide range of powers to manage its affairs to their benefit.

For instance, it will empower the farmers to enter into negotiations with millers on the best price for their produce.

It also proposes the formation of a board to oversee the operations of the sector, and empower the farmers to elect the board's chief executive.

Osundwa said the bill would correct the imbalance in The management of the sugar industry, where the government Currently calls the shots, leaving the farmer with no voice.

The chairman, an MP from a sugar-cane growing area of western Kenya, said the bill would also help to address some causes of the current crisis.

He said one of the reasons the country faced a sugar shortage was the low prices paid to the farmers for their produce.

Osundwa said farmers currently received a paltry 1,730 shillings (23 US dollars) per tonne of cane. From this, the factory deducts the cost of farm inputs and hired labour, leaving the poor farmer with a measly 380 shillings (5 dollars).

The chairman regretted that this had discouraged many cane farmers who are now uprooting the crop and opting to grow other cash crops like tobacco, or subsistence crops like maize and beans, considered more commercially viable.

Osundwa announced plans to have his committee tour some of the leading sugar-cane producing countries of the world, such as India, Jamaica, Mauritius and South Africa, in the next few weeks, to study how they run their industries and pay their farmers.

They will specifically seek to learn the basis of payment to cane farmers, particularly whether it should be based on the sugar content or the weight of the cane.

The lawmakers are also expected to study the legal framework that governs the sugar industry in those countries.

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