Kenya sugarcane farmers demand more shares

Saturday May 30 2015

By SCOLA KAMAU, TEA Special Correspondent

Sugarcane farmers in Kenya are demanding for more than 50 per cent of shares in the planned privatisation of five government-owned firms.

The farmers have been allocated a 24 per cent share now, and a further 6 per cent if the government sells its 25 per cent of shares at a later date; strategic investors are expected to own a majority share of 51 per cent.

The farmers said debts owed to them should be cleared before the privatisation starts. They are also demanding Ksh12.1 billion ($123 million) in underpayment from the millers.

Richard Ogendo, the Kenya Sugarcane Growers Association secretary general, said, “The initial 24 per cent is too little. Privatisation should start by empowering us with the majority shareholding.  The association has sent a memorandum through the Senate demanding for more allocation.”

The association represents 353,000 small and large scale sugarcane farmers.

According to Mr Ogendo, the millers owe farmers their dues for the past three months, and arrears dated as far back as 2009 are yet to be cleared.

“The privatisation should wait for the court’s verdict. All our debts should be cleared before the firms are handed to new owners,” Mr Ogendo said.

The government has said it will pay Ksh39.7 billion ($405 million) of the debt owed by three sugar firms: As at June 2009, Muhoroni, Miwani and Nzoia owed the government Ksh35.5 billion ($362 million), and the Kenya Sugar Board Ksh6.3 billion ($64 million).

“After write offs, all the remaining GoK debt — from Nzoia, Sony and Chemilil — will be converted to equity, and the remaining Sugar Board debt will be repaid once adequate liquidity has been created in the sugar companies and payments to staff and farmers have been concluded,” said Solomon Kitungu, the chief executive officer of the Privatisation Commission of Kenya.