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Private firms: Cane poachers or envy of failed millers?

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By EDWIN OKOTH
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Norman Brooks’ family has, for about six decades, been growing sugarcane in Koru, Muhoroni Constituency in Kisumu County.

The British family has maintained its 700-acre cane empire and is a case study on how to run a cane estate. When smallholder farms were mooted in the 1960s, they were supposed to mimic these large plantations — where planting and harvesting would be synchronised. The public millers were supposed to help the smallholders get a foothold in the multi-billion-shilling business.

But decades later — the public millers are a pale shadow of the dream and have become the laughing stock of the sugar sector weighed down by debts amounting to more than Sh100 billion; mainly attributed to mismanagement and plundering.

In their place, private millers have found commercial success.

The Brooks family has contracted Raju Patel’s Kibos Sugar Millers to harvest their cane — having had a past dalliance with public millers.

Like all other cane farmers, James Brooks, son of the founder Norman Brooks, worries about the failure by cane companies to pay farmers in good time.

“When the millers mistreat the farmer who is the source of their raw materials then there is something wrong. Sometimes the private millers delay payments too but not compared to what the public millers do,” he said.

That public sugar mills have become the industry’s double-edged swords, helping and hurting in equal measure, is now clear. They not only have bloated wage bills but have defeated all strategic intervention by the government by gobbling up any injected capital. As a result, the government has been toying with the idea of privatising these mills and returning the management of the sugar sector to commercial entities.

With new mills, new technology and ready liquidity to buy and mill cane, the private mills, which have since outnumbered the government owned millers, have become the envy of the industry: They receive praise and blame in equal measure.

Their operations are also distinct from how the public millers are run and the rift is even wider when efficiency is compared.

Private firms: Cane poachers or envy    of failed millers?

Utilising all the products from sugarcane has given these factories an edge over public ones

Kisumu-based Kibos Sugar and Allied Industries, for example, use trucks to source for cane in areas as far flung as Fort Ternan — 75 kilometres away — with six cane collection centres spread around its catchment areas.

Kibos’ Corporate Affairs Manager Joyce Opondo believes their diversification and machine efficiency has given the miller an edge over its competitors.

“We are not just focusing on producing sugar; for us sugar will soon be a bi-product as we ensure nothing goes to waste. It is this model of operation that has enabled us to make the strides since we started operations. There has to be a shift on how we treat sugar cane as a raw material and that is what Kibos is focused on,” says Ms Opondo.

Kibos is largely automated and requires minimum labour, further saving on the cost of production.

But that is not how they are viewed by the industry.

“What they are doing is poaching which is simply stealing, because you give the farmer seed and support them, then someone comes and takes the cane. The farmers love it because they escape that loan,” claims Mr Francis Ooko, the Muhoroni Sugar company boss.

Mr Ooko says that the aggressive cane sourcing nature of these millers is to blame for the frequent cane shortages. He says cane poaching by private millers has proved disruptive and collapsed cane sourcing plans — leaving public millers with nowhere to source quantity and quality cane.

“We need to have some sanity in cane harvesting because we are used to long-term planning and order. When a private miller suddenly appears and picks cane form areas you had planned to harvest, it becomes a chaotic scenario,” he says.

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With the liberalisation of cane sourcing, the private millers have set up weighbridges and off site cane collection centres and use faster trucks to transport cane, away from the traditional tractors — used by public millers.

The reality on the ground, before the entry of private millers, was that public mills could not take up all the cane produced and farmers were left desperate for an alternative. It was after their aggressive entry into the scene — and instant payment — that they were accused of poaching cane from the zones traditionally preserved for the public millers

But are the private mills the damaging devils or the rescue angels for the sector?

Insiders say the private millers brought the critical alternatives for the farmers who had no choice but deal with the ageing state-owned mills which break down regularly and fail to pay them. An AFA study to establish the national sugar supply and demand between 2014 and 2018 isolated the private mills’ performance at more than twice in efficiency compared to their public counterparts.

On overall time efficiency, state owned millers made planned and unplanned stoppages averaging five months in 2014 compared to the 2.5 months’ stoppages the private mills have. The result is that private mills crush cane faster, pay farmers and keep themselves in business as the state-owned millers antagonise farmers through delayed payments.

The mills have clashed over sugar cane sourcing in what will be a key clause in the Sugar regulations 2018 which is set to be finalised and taken to Parliament.

Indeed, farmers love the coming of the private mills as much as they are blamed for having taken an advantage of their existence to default input loans advanced to them by the public mills.

Large-scale farmers, such as the Norman Brooks family, and who do not depend on any input subsidies from the public mills, have however found a softer landing in the private mills.

But the public millers — and their supporters — believe that the coming of the private mills is largely to blame for the reduction in cane supply since they are said to offer no support to the farmers while they have caused the public millers to shrink support for fear of funding what will eventually be poached from them.

Sony Sugar Corporate and Planning and Strategy Manager Eliud Owuor believes that the private mills also have lesser responsibilities to the communities they serve since most of the roads and schools were already supported by the public mills.

Mr Owuor says Sony, for example, takes care of some 754 kilometres of a road in the four zones it operates in in addition to supporting schools and hospitals which the public expects from them as compared to what the expectation from the private mills is.

“That success through diversification narrative is a fallacy by the private mills to sustain some of the wrongs they have done as much as it is an add-on but not the key determinant of the success of this industry. We support farmers through inputs and extension services and we have done this over the years without any worry for poaching until the private millers some as later as 2017 emerged. They just put up mills without developing sufficient raw materials so they simply resorted to stealing which has really distorted out planning, “Mr Owuor said.

But Ms Opondo of Kibos disputes the claims of having a joyride on the back of public millers. She said the Kibos Sugar, for instance, had spent some Sh400 million in repairing sections of the abandoned Miwani-Muhoroni road to enable its trucks to source for cane from the area.

The love-hate relationship with the private millers remain complex since some public milers borrow materials like bagasse and even trade with them when need arises. Muhoroni for example generated its first Sh500 million in September by selling cane to Kibos when it needed a restart capital.

In this mix, the smallholder cane farmers is caught in a complex commercial game.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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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.

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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.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
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.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
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.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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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.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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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.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

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.

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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.

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