Media must amplify the story of struggling cane farmers

Thursday, December 26th, 2019 18:54 |
Sugarcane farming. Photo/Courtesy

Hesbon Owilla

This festive season I embarked on a trip through the sugar belt region—from Uriri, Awendo and Rongo through Muhoroni and Chemelil. What I saw was disheartening. 

You see, the woes facing the sugar industry have to be given an all-round  coverage beyond trade and management failures. Bailing companies on receivership or on their deathbeds may not be the wisest thing to do for the government. 

Indeed, the focus should no longer be about what we can do to restore the firms profitability. Instead, it should be how to restore the source of livelihood to thousands of families dependent on cane farming. Farmers should be the point of departure in providing a lasting solution.

From Awendo all the way to the foot of Nandi Hills, markets are dilapidated, buildings are in ruins and farmers are clearly living in squalor.

The local economies are battered and employees of struggling sugar companies are suffering.

The future will hold us culpable if turn a blind eye to the plight of Sony, Mumias, Chemelil, Muhoroni and Nzoia sugar firms and as a few merchants benefit at the expense of thousands of families. 

The five firms are somewhat  tied to the destinies of local communities. Their revival would see jobs created and local economies revitalised.

Granted, the story of the sugar industry must go beyond trade issues and give cane farmers a voice; those whose sons and daughters have had to drop out of school because the sugar firms owe farmers billions of shillings. 

We need to hear the story of Awendo township, where the downfall of Sony Sugar has occasioned the dearth of business in the area that business was once thriving as factory machines rumbled. 

It is sad that even in Migori, the home of Sony Sugar, I could not get Sony-branded sugar, just like I did not get Nzoia sugar in Kitale or Mumias Sugar.

Nevertheless, supermarket shelves were stocked with sugar to the brim. The lack of Sony Sugar in South Nyanza supermarket shelves, for instance, speaks to a serious issue. 

This is why the media needs to amplify the cries of farmers in the sugar belt as well as those of local traders who have seen their revenues dwindle while some closed down completely.

I know there are loud cries that have been muted in the public conversations. Back in the day when I was a student at Pe-Hill High School in South Nyanza, the Sony factory was roaring and a lot of trucks would be plying the routes from all corners of the region ferrying cane to the factory. The firm was the engine of the economy of region. 

Some of our classmates were from the posh estates within the company and the purchasing powers of company employees boosted the local economy. Small scale farmers were in business because of Sony.

Today, roads are better than they were yesteryears, but there are less—or none—trucks ferrying cane and the factory is no longer rumbling. Something is definitely amiss.

 These stories must be told and leadership at the board level or even political realm must be put to task. We cannot have political representatives at three legislative levels and yet factories are dying. 

The media may need to move from the watchdog role to a much more nuanced role that is constructive and dialogic.

We need a paradigm shift. From the stories of corrupt sugar barons and compromised systems to stories of the poor suffering farmers and employees who go without salaries and the traders in these local markets.

The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword and we can act by disclosing through the pen.  —The writer is a PhD candidate,  Political Communications 

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