By Victor Raballa
The expansive and incomplete house of 68-year-old Julius Okiro tells the sad tale of Muhoroni Sugar Company.
For the father of four school-going children, this is the cost he has had to pay to secure his family’s future.
“Life has taken a drastic turn for us. We can barely meet basic needs,” he said as he recalled the good days when the sugar industry thrived.
Mr Okiro, who hails from Kipturo village in Muhoroni sub county, says the recent closure of Muhoroni has locked his Sh360,000 proceeds as the firm has arrears of over Sh500 million.
“Things have changed from bad to worse. The closure of Muhoroni spelt doom to over 3,000 farmers who relied on sugarcane farming to survive,” he told the Nation.
The public sugar miller closed for six weeks on May 28, citing lack of sugarcane to crush.
Mr Okiro last delivered his cane to the factory in April last year.
He says he has been unable to maintain his seven and a half-acre sugarcane plantation.
“I have been forced to cultivate only one acre of land since I don’t have the re-sources to take care of activities like application of fertiliser, pesticides and weeding,” he said.
A large part of his farm has been invaded by weeds and the cane field has signs of nutrient deficiency due to pronounced yellowing of leaves.
Before Muhoroni closed down, Mr Okiro said it was paying farmers Sh4,050 per tonne of cane, a much better deal compared with the nearby Kibos Sugar, the only operating miller in the Nyando belt after closure of Miwani and Chemelil.
“The management of Kibos Sugar is taking advantage of the situation and exploiting desperate farmers, who have no other alternative,” he said.
He added that sugarcane has been left to rot in the farms due to lack of buyers following the temporary shutdown of Muhoroni.
He said he was wondering whether to abandon sugarcane farming and diversify to other cash crops like tea and coffee to meet his family’s needs.
His attempt to engage in dairy farming has also been jeopardised by cattle rustling, which is rampant in the region, especially on the Nandi-Kisumu border due to land wrangles dating back to 1992, when about 3,000 people were displaced.
Meanwhile, local leaders are vouching for alternative cash crops.
Led by Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga, they have asked farmers to plant such crops as sorghum, which is quite promising since Kenya Breweries Limited, for instance, plans to re-launch a factory which used to be active in the region next month.