Sugar cane farmers have been left at the mercy of unscrupulous cartels who have taken the sector hostage, turning the multibillion sub-sector into a field of misery.
The farmers are forced to pay the cartels for the same services they are charged by the millers — a double tragedy that makes sugar production in Kenya expensive and unprofitable.
Once upon a time, sugar cane growing in Kenya was an easy and lucrative trade. All that a farmer within the sugar belt was required to do was to own land.
By then, most of the capital-intensive operations were taken care of by the millers and later by well-funded co-operative societies, leaving the farmer with the role of taking care of the cane and waiting for cash after 18 months. That has changed.
After the millers started delaying payments for cane delivered and farmers sank into debts, the business chain was open to cartels — a ruthless network that now controls the entire production chain and even grows bigger at the tail end of the chain where the final product is involved.
This network, Nation has established, starts at the land preparation stage where the few tractor owners, drivers and managers demand “inducement” to prioritise the farms to be prepared first.
Brokers have also emerged in the supply of seed cane which they sometimes source from the millers who previously would supply the farmers directly. More so, inputs like the subsidised fertiliser is hard to come by. Farmers told us that you must know someone and if not, you are forced to purchase the commodity from the local agro vets at a high price, thanks to the brokers.
During harvesting, the farmer who has been spending time and money on the cane farm is pregnant with hopes of having the cane delivered to the miller and finally earning from it. It is not that smooth-sailing.
In the Nyando Sugar belt, the term chuth ber is so common, one may mistake it for a cane processing jargon. The Dholuo word which literally means ‘in advance or beforehand’ is used by the harvesting stakeholders to refer to the bribes farmers have to pay to ensure their crops are harvested and delivered to the mills.
“The first line of chuth ber is what you need to pay to the harvesting officers at the factory to list your cane for harvesting, if you don’t, it is not surprising to see your cane over-maturing while younger cane adjacent to your farm is harvested and then delivered,” said Mr Mike Agano, a farmer whose cane had hit 21 months and is located just 3.5 kilometres from Muhoroni Sugar Company.
This company, which shut down operations for half a year due to lack of canes, is accused by many farmers of practicing helicopter harvesting — the practice of harvesting cane from one farm amid a huge plantation area and leaving others which are adjacent to it, then moving to another area.
Once the factory has allocated their contracted harvesting firms to cut cane from the farms, the harvesters have their own form ofchuth ber, and they too demand some payment and extra facilitation — including water and sometimes food — to cut the cane.
It is how much one pays their leader that determines, not how fast the cane will be cut, but how well. A few inches above the base wastes the crop and leaves farmers with added task of chopping off the stalks to allow the cane sprout afresh.
It does not end here. The transport element has its own double chuth ber element; first to have the cane lifted and to have it carefully delivered. Farmers who have failed to play ball here end up with lots of cane left at the farm or recklessly delivered with lots of wastage on the way. At worst, the cane is left to dry in your farm; further compounding the loss.
A 2016/2017 Sugar Research Institute annual report said that cut cane takes up to 21 days after cutting to the time it is delivered to the mill. The period referred to as the “cut-mill interval” is responsible for loss of up to 20 per cent of the cane weight. The financial cost of the long chain of chuth bers is among possible contributors to Kenya’s uncompetitive cost of production.
Tomorrow: Nation investigates zoning, faceless farmers and the rusty cane mills in the sugar belt
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.
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.
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.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
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.