The government on Thursday evening paraded what it called actual sugar farmers to counter calls by the Opposition to drop a sugar importation arrangement with Uganda.
Speaking at Harambee House in Nairobi, Acting Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed insisted that Kenya had signed no agreement with Uganda, but insisted that Kenya would continue to import sugar because local factories are inefficient.
Mr Mohamed repeated what his Foreign Affairs counterpart, Ms Amina Mohamed, had told reporters the previous day: that Kenya and Uganda did not need to sign any agreement because such an arrangement already exists within the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African (Comesa) region.
Uganda has been selling sugar to Kenya since 1997. Under the Customs Union of the East Africa Community, sugar from Uganda enjoys full access into the Kenyan market.
Additionally, being a member of Comesa, Uganda is entitled to access the Kenyan market on Comesa treaty terms, he said.
In responding to opposition leaders, who have challenged the government to drop a deal supposedly signed when President Uhuru Kenyatta toured Kampala recently, Mr Mohamed brought with him representatives of the Kenya National Federation of Sugar Farmers (KNFSF).
The biggest stakeholder in all this are our farmers. Our farmers are aware of some of the issues that are currently affecting our sugar industry. Least among the issues is actually the alleged conversation around this non-existent deal that is being talked about.
“While everybody is playing around with statements about what may have happened, the real stakeholders who have the most to lose or gain are actually our farmers and the government commitment to support that group is demonstrated by the dialogue we continue to have with them, he said.
The officials in attendance were Mr Juma Ibrahim (chairman), Mr Ezra Okoth (secretary-general), Mr Joash Wamang’oli (chairman of Nzoia Sugar), Mr James Choge (Treasurer) and Federation CEO Francis Waswa.
Interestingly, the farmers’ representatives said they would protest if the government signed a sugar deal with Uganda.
We are against imports exceeding the required quota into the country. Farmers are taking loans to grow cane yet there are no returns, our markets are infiltrated by imported sugar, said Mr Ibrahim.
The farmers claimed that importing sugar into the country was pushing them out of business as the government taxes them heavily.
NOTHING TO TAKE HOME
The cost of cane production is too high at 40 per cent while taxes take up 16 per cent, leaving farmers with nothing to bring home, said Mr Ibrahim, who pleaded with the government to review sugar regulations with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority (AFFA) to allow farmers to benefit from the industry.
The KNFSF’s secretary-general, Mr Okoth, further blamed the government, saying it had neglected the sector and had not moved fast enough to protect farmers even as the January 2016 deadline for Comesa safeguards looms.
We are not ready for the safeguard, the government is doing nothing to protect us, and the remaining mills should be privatised to allow local millers (to) compete, said Mr Okoth.
The total sugar demand in the country is estimated at 860,000 metric tonnes, comprises 710,000 tonnes of table sugar and 150,000 tonnes of industrial-use sugar.