The traditional expansiveness of lush cover of sugar cane plantations which has been the signature image for the eight settlement schemes of Muhoroni and the Nyando sugar belt no longer exists.
Instead, intermittent patches of between two and three acres of cane is what remains, dotted with houses, fallow land and a few alternative cash crops like coffee.
The original template which guided the land distribution in the settlement schemes, where one would be allocated some six acres of land for just sugar cane farming (sugar plots) and another 4-5 acres for residence, no longer holds.
In essence, the sugar settlement project, as mooted in the 60s, is dead. In those days, owning a sugar cane plot was a mark of status and a wealth symbol that those who did not have were considered poor without any future guarantee for wealth.
“Cane for us used to be what cattle is for the Maasai, it did not even matter what was the regular take home for it but when you had it, there was that comfort that you were rich. It was prestigious and schools listened to us when we mentioned the cane on our farms. Now, it’s all different,” said Mr Jactone Ojera, who has since cut cane farming by tens of acres and diversified to coffee farming.
Population pressure has since caused multiple land subdivisions whose result is the dwindling fortunes of sugar cane farming. This has eventually discouraged younger generations away from engaging in the crop whose sweetness has since faded.
A closer look at the existing cane paints an even grimmer picture, thin and dry in most of the areas, yellowish and chocked by weed in other areas. It becomes even difficult to distinguish sugar cane and the Napier grass planted at their edges by dairy farmers in places like Kandege where farmers are trying their hand in alternative ventures.
One would imagine that Muhoroni Sugar Company, which boasts of some 17,000 acres of land meant to source for sugar cane, may present an alternative picture but wait until you get to see the nucleus.
The stunted cane and patches of empty land lines along bushy inroads into the miller’s strategic raw material source is a sad tale of cane farming looking south.
Chemelil Sugar Company has no better story, it’s nucleus is not fully under cane and the miller is struggling to get finances to hit a target of having at least 90 per cent of its 2,273 hectares of land planted with cane. The surrounding farmers, who supply 95 per cent of the cane crushed by Chemelil, have since scaled down and a ride on the damaged Muhoroni-Chemelil-Miwani road is enough testimony.
Young girls dot the roadside with a haul of dry cane bundled together to be used as firewood. The farms, from where they have fetched the now black stalks of what was once cane, are among those erasing their encounter with sugar cane in the fading glory of an agricultural cash crop many cherished in the years gone by.
The Kenya Yearbook of Statistics show a slow growth of sugar cane available for crushing between 2002 and 2009. Thereafter, there is a sharp decline before another sluggish recovery in 2011.
Farmers who spoke to Nation said they had either abandoned the crop or simply gave up tending to their farms after years of unpaid arrears from the local millers meant they could no longer support the crop whose capital requirements is not for shallow pockets.
The fall of cane farming can be traced back to a broken tradition where millers provided credit facilities for the farmers in form of input loans and services including fertiliser application and harvesting and farmers faithfully suppled the cane to the mills.
The farmers’ key role was to set the land aside and be a good husband to ensure the crops are well attended to until they are harvested. They would then take a painful cut on the first harvest which in many cases still left them with some significant take home and then enjoy the net three harvests by simply weeding and taking care of the cane. That no longer exists and there are many reasons to it depending on who you ask.
“The miller would give you support, then when the cane matures, they fail to harvest it. It dries up and you end up with the loan. When they harvest it late, you still end up with a loan to repay and if this is repeated through the three harvests, you are forever indebted to the miller. It leaves one with the feeling that that your land has just been misused,” said Mr Amolo Castile, a farmer based in Muhoroni.
The farmers’ past and present experience has worked to diminish hopes of those planning to venture into the trade, afraid that the bitterness beneath the juicy trade in the good old days is long gone.
The miller on the other hand is bogged down by weak financial muscle after years of intermittent operations and can hardly support the very farmers they heavily rely on for raw materials.
Apart from the suspension of the Sugar Development Levy which helped to support both the Kenya Sugar Research Foundation which informed the industry on new varieties and better cane growing practices, millers also blame farmers for defaulting on the input loans and later gaming the system in cane supply to avoid being deducted or sell the cane to the mushrooming private mills.
“We support farmers with input, land developing fertiliser seed cane and agricultural extension services. While some farmers have the ability to do grow cane on their own, it is capita intensive and we had always viewed it as an integral part of our activities to guarantee security of raw material supply until the poaching games began,” Mr Apollo Hongo, Sony Sugar Company Cane Production Manager told us.
With cane-farming struggling under the weight of various other factors, millers can hardly keep running to capacity. The starts and stops only aggravate the problem by pilling the same debts to farmers whose feet have grown colder when it comes to growing sugar cane, once a sweet experience and a path to wealth.
This year alone, all the government-run mills, except for Sony Sugar, ceased operations for months due to lack of cane. The narrowing cane availability makes a key trigger to the poor predicament of government mills reeling from ageing machines and poor management.
Mumias Sugar, which has been a recipient of some Sh35 billion from the government, was this September seeking Sh2 billion to cater for its electricity bills after Kenya Power disconnected its supply. The miller can no longer sell even ethanol, which has been keeping it going.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.