Farmers oppose sugar zoning, term it illegal

Sugarcane farmers oppose zoning./COURTESY

SUCAM, the sugar campaign for change advocacy group, has declared that the sugar zoning proposed in Kenya’s draft Sugar Regulations, 2018 is an illegal and anti-competitive constraint that would require an express waiver by the Competition Authority.

The draft regulations, now under review by the Agriculture Ministry’s Sugar Industry Taskforce, propose that sugar cane farmers be obliged to sell their produce to specific sugar mills, with a single buyer for each area dictated by regulation.

In a statement, SUCAM Coordinator Michael Arum said the proposed reintroduction of zoning has ignited memories among farmers – most especially in Mumias, SONY, Chemelil, Muhuroni and Nzoia – of the losses caused during the 1990s by the same policy.

At that time, many farmers failed to harvest, while others delayed harvesting by up to four years. The zoning caused delayed payments, currently totaling to sh.2.6 billion.

“Forcing farmers to sell to a single buyer, who will be the only miller they can sell to, offers no remaining scope for market forces,” said Arum

SUCAM claims farmers will be forced to conform to the price set by their local enforced mill, which is a breach of the Competition Act that prohibits restrictive trade practices and anti-competitive agreements.

“For farmers in areas with poorly performing mills, any mill mismanagement will mean that their own livelihoods are ruined. They cannot seek other sellers, or better prices. In effect, they will simply work for a single mill, and without ever having signed a contract to do so, but by regulatory dictate.” Said Arum

On the other hand Saulo Busolo SUCAM Chairman said zoning law also is a breach of COMESA rules that prohibit the introduction of a contract, agreement or understanding that is anti-competitive or substantially lessens competition within the common market, said SUCAM.

“Imposing a single buyer contract on farmers will, in fact, drive many Kenyan farmers away from sugar production. It means farmers must produce without any possibility of selling their produce freely, versus switching to producing other crops entirely,” said Busolo

He insisted that the proposal that Kenya’s sugar industry introduces zoning comes after similar policies have failed and been abandoned all over the world.