Sugarcane farmers in Western Kenya have raised concern over the high cost of production ahead of the expiry of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) safeguards next month. Kenya National Sugarcane Farmers Union (KENSFU) secretary-general Simon Wesechere warned that removing the Comesa safeguards before reducing the cost of farm inputs and providing affordable credit to growers would expose the local industry to unfair competition from the other member- countries. "Successive governments in Kenya have never made production of cane affordable to the farmers; how can we compete fairly with the Comesa countries where the average cost of production is between Sh10,000 to Sh15,000 when ours is as high as Sh65,000 per tonne?" posed Mr Wesechere. Mr Wesechere said the current financing scheme through the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) was too expensive for small-scale farmers. "We demand that the requirements under the AFC be reviewed to accommodate the small scale farmers, including women who have had their net income eroded by the expensive credit facility," he said. He said the financing of sugarcane development through the millers was costly to farmers. "We demand that millers stick to their core business of milling and leave service provision to out-growers," he said. Mr Wesechere cited other problems threatening the local sugar industry as exploitation of farmers by millers, poor execution of laws governing the industry, poor harvesting, poor administration of cane zoning, massive corruption among policy administrators and lack of extension services. ALSO READ: Low milling capacity, poor yields deepen sugar industry woes Mr Wesechere warned that these issues would hold back the industry's growth. "These persistent problems have resulted in high level of poverty, increasing HIV/Aids prevalence and high mortality rate in sugar cane-growing areas because of the dismal returns," said Mr Wesechere. He asked the government to intervene and ensure compliance to the constitutional provisions, Vision 2030 benchmarks and the agricultural laws ascribed in the AFFA Act 2013. The union also accused the Kenya Sugar Board of not following privatisation procedures and cited the execution of receivership in Muhoroni and Miwani sugar industries. The Kenya Sugar Manufacturers Association asked the government to curb importation of cheap sugar into the Kenyan market without necessary duties. The chairman, Peter Kebati , asked the State to seal loopholes at the borders where these illegally imported sugar comes into the country. "With the issues being persistent, the millers will be forced to further reduce the cane price that now stands at Sh2,900 per tonne," said Mr Kebati when contacted fro comment. Mr Kebati , who is also the managing director of Mumias Sugar Company , said the government should advance funds for development of more cane on its own or through advances to its contracted farmers. He observed that there was no effort to develop more cane despite the numerous millers in Western Kenya .
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