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Mumias farmers find sweet returns in soya after abandoning sugarcane

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Farm­ers who have tra­di­tion­ally grown sug­ar­cane are find­ing sweeter days re­pla­cing cane with maize and Soya beans in a move boost­ing house­hold food se­cur­ity and in­come.

Since the set up of the once giant miller in Kenya in 1970s, many farm­ers have re­lied on it as a sole source for sur­vival by cul­tiv­at­ing and de­liv­er­ing the crop through the fam­ous out grower scheme. When the sugar firm was es­tab­lished as is al­ways the case, the man­age­ment ac­quired sev­eral acres of land and grew on it the sug­ar­cane meant to be pro­cessed by the fact­ory.

The com­pany owned plant­a­tions were known as nuc­leus. As the de­mand for more sugar grew, the plant­a­tions could not sus­tain the needed raw ma­ter­ial by the com­pany cre­at­ing a win­dow of op­por­tun­ity for farm­ers as the com­pany sought al­tern­at­ives. This is how most of the farm­ers got to cane cul­tiv­a­tion.

The ven­ture was re­lief to the farm­ers and many got into the out grower scheme through the sup­port from the com­pany. The com­pany provided vital farm in­puts like seed­lings, fer­til­izer, trans­port­a­tion and land pre­par­a­tion ser­vices. In re­turn the farm­ers were sup­posed to plant, weed and cater for the canes until they were ma­ture for har­vest­ing. By so doing, the farm­ers and the com­pany shared the costs.

As time went by, the sup­ply of sug­ar­cane was heav­ily shift­ing to the out grower small scale farm­ers as evid­ent ac­cord­ing to 2006 stat­ist­ics from Kenya bur­eau stand­ards which noted that the out grow­ers by then made up to 82 per­cent of the cane sup­pli­ers in the coun­try.

The ar­range­ment has worked well among the two parties until re­cently when the farm­ers star­ted feel­ing the wrath of a looted com­pany by the top brass. Hagai Saka an out grower farmer who has worked with the com­pany for 15 years ex­plained his pre­dic­a­ment. At first, his re­la­tion­ship with the com­pany was smooth. “We sup­plied the cane and re­ceived our pay­ment within 3-4 weeks. We even re­ceived bonus after three months of the ini­tial pay­ment. Everything was trans­par­ent and many farm­ers man­aged to get in­come to edu­cate their chil­dren and in­vest in other de­vel­op­mental activ­it­ies,” noted Hagai.

The sweet tale of re­turns is pop­u­lar among many farm­ers who were in­volved in cane cul­tiv­a­tion for the last three dec­ades. In fact a story is told of farm­ers get­ting im­mense be­ne­fits to a point of going for hol­i­days. “Every farmer who has ever felt the be­ne­fit of the cane in the re­gion must have got­ten a chance to travel to the Kenyan coast to enjoy life after being paid,” noted Jimmy Ajwang a res­id­ent from Koy­onzo vil­lage in Mu­mias. In fact so wide­spread is the the­ory about Coastal vis­its by the cane farm­ers that some people in the area re­late it to why sub­sequently most loc­als in the area ad­op­ted Islam.

But the sweet days would be numbered with the re­la­tion­ship with millers com­ing un­ex­pec­tedly. This shook most farm­ers as they en­tirely de­pended on the cash crop for their sur­vival. “We never saw this com­ing. It was gradual and we were blind­folded largely by the local polit­ics and lead­ers,” noted Hagai. “First we wit­nessed sev­eral policy changes with the quick top man­age­ment changes. This turn of events were ushered in gradu­ally about five years ago and every new CEO that came into the helm of the com­pany was keen at chan­ging the status quo and this in­cluded, how the com­pany in­ter­ac­ted with the out-grower farm­ers,” added Hagai.

Al­though, there is a wide spread men­tal­ity among most top brass man­age­ment that the bulk of the farm­ers were ig­nor­ant, Hagai de­mys­ti­fied this no­tion ex­plain­ing that when things were start­ing to take a new twist, he re­duced his acre­age of sugar cane plant­a­tion to 3 and the re­main­ing 9 acres al­loc­ated it to maize and Napier grass on a ratio of 8 to 1 re­spect­ively. “I no­ticed some fish­i­ness and lack of trans­par­ency after har­vest­ing my sug­ar­cane. Nor­mally after com­pany de­duc­tions, I would re­main with between 60-85 per­cent of the pay­out amount from my har­vest. However, things star­ted going bizarre for the vet­eran farmer.

“That time after re­gis­ter­ing a very good har­vest, I ex­pec­ted sim­ilar pay­outs as the pre­vi­ous ones. However, the de­duc­tions al­most ex­ceeded my pay­out cash! Out of the total gross earn­ings of about Sh300,000 I was left with a net of only Sh32400.” Among other de­duc­tions that were slapped on Hagai in­cluded Sh5400 for cane trans­port­a­tion per kilo­meter des­pite his farm being loc­ated less than 9kilo­metere from the fact­ory. Other bizarre costs in­cluded an extra Sh12000 seed cane for gap­ping al­though the farmer never ordered for any among oth­ers. “I was per­turbed and tried to fol­low up with the man­age­ment which kept on toss­ing me from one of­fice to an­other and I even­tu­ally gave up after hear­ing sim­ilar or­deals from some of my fel­low cane farm­ers,” ex­plained the dis­traught farmer.

The trend of farmer’s ex­ploit­a­tion con­tin­ued and even ad­op­ted a higher a gear in the sub­sequent years. In fact Hagai noted that apart from ‘ton­nage steal­ing’ the firm ad­op­ted open day rob­bery when they star­ted delay­ing the mea­ger pay to the farm­ers who had sup­plied their canes for even over one year. Ac­cord­ing to many sugar cane farm­ers, they never de­term­ined or as­cer­tained the ton­nage of their har­ves­ted canes.

They had lob­bied for im­ple­ment­a­tion of on farm mo­bile weigh­bridge in order to en­force trans­par­ency but the Mu­mias Sugar man­age­ment had ob­jec­ted it. Con­sequently, farm­ers were left at the mercy of the com­pany to de­term­ine the weight of their canes which in most cases, the farm­ers lost out since they were only served with doc­u­ments de­tail­ing the ton­nage two to three weeks after har­vest­ing.

As if this ex­ploit­a­tion was not enough, the farm­ers had to now bear with late pay­ments of their dues. “How do you ex­pect a farmer to make ends meet when you delay with his money for over one year, ques­tioned Asikoyo Em­manuel a dis­traught sug­ar­cane farmer from In­gusi vil­lage in South Wanga di­vi­sion. “Many farm­ers in­clud­ing I have re­sor­ted to maize farm­ing after up­root­ing sugar cane. We can no longer with­stand these eco­nomic in­justices,” he added.

Ac­cord­ing to Asikoyo, the tribu­la­tions that sugar cane farmer have suffered in the re­gion forced them into se­cur­ing al­tern­at­ives that are prov­ing to be worth­while. By the look of things, the re­gion is gradu­ally set­ting it­self free from the bond­age of hun­ger. “We rely heav­ily maize as our staple food but for long its sup­ply has been hampered mainly due to the fact that many farm lands were under sug­ar­cane. This al­ways kept our re­gion in a vi­cious cycle of poverty and hun­ger. We ended up re­ly­ing on sup­plies from Kitale and Uganda to sus­tain us. However, this sup­ply was a bit costly and only a few loc­als af­forded it leav­ing the ma­jor­ity to face the wrath of hun­ger,” ex­plained Asikoyo. Cur­rently, with most farm­ers doing maize farm­ing the price of a 2 kg is about Ksh40 when in pre­vi­ous years the same would cost over Ksh70.

Other agro based de­vel­op­ment or­gan­iz­a­tion like Cen­ter for Trop­ical Ag­ri­cul­ture (CIAT) and One Acre Fund have come in handy to farm­ers plight bring­ing new farm­ing skills, in­puts and know­ledge. A case in point is the now thriv­ing Soya beans group in the re­gion that has a mem­ber­ship of now over 1000.

Or­gan­ized under Mu­mias Dis­trict Fed­er­a­tion of Soya beans Farm­ers group (MUDESOF), the bud­ding farm­ers were first in­tro­duced to the luc­rat­ive crop in 2006 by re­search and de­vel­op­ment pro­jects under CIAT. Stephen Kasamani the leader of the group noted that the crop is also help­ing in the fix­a­tion of ni­tro­gen in their farms and some farm­ers are now ad­opt­ing crop ro­ta­tion to max­im­ize re­turns from its abil­ity to fix ni­tro­gen in the soil.

In the long rain peri­ods, some farm­ers in­ter­crop the crop with maize but in the sub­sequent shorter rain period, most farm­ers opt for Soya hence the crop has po­si­tioned it­self as a pre­ferred and prof­it­able choice for ro­ta­tional farm­ing. Ro­tat­ing the crop fixes the poor soils and many maize farm­ers who plant maize after har­vest­ing Soya are re­gis­ter­ing about 50 per­cent in­crease in yields. Iddi Makokha is one of the group mem­ber who has mastered the art ro­tat­ing Soya bean with maize, a prac­tice that the father of five have never re­gret­ted since its’ ad­op­tion.

Be­sides its com­mer­cial value, Soya is also rich nu­tri­tion­ally. Soy­bean has 40 per cent pro­tein and 20 per cent oil. As a high pro­tein crop, it’s emer­ging as a crop for curb­ing mal­nu­tri­tion, par­tic­u­larly among women and chil­dren in Africa. It’s also one of the legumes being fron­ted for use in green bio-fuel en­ergy in­dustry. In the US, it has emerged as a front-run­ning crop in the bio-fuel in­dustry.

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