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Why farmers, private millers are opposed to zoning

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By EDWIN OKOTH
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In 2010, Justice Martha Koome said Kenya was a free-market economy and farmers were free to sell their produce to a miller of their choice.

The ruling, in a raging court case between two sugar millers, meant that private and government factories were free to buy cane from farmers, most of who had been held hostage by millers who never paid on time.

State-owned companies have been attempting to reintroduce zoning via the recently gazetted Sugar (General) Regulations, 2018.

Farmers are opposed to zoning as they would forgo the freedom of choosing where to sell their cane.

A number of proposed factories in some zones are already dead — something that could give particular millers monopoly in a bigger belt.

At the moment, zoning remains one of the most revisited topics in the sugar belt. It receives support and opposition in equal measure, depending on who one asks.

While public factories regard zoning as the ultimate solution to the ‘invasion’ by privately-owned mills, which began operations just a few years ago, the private firms regard the practice as a lame excuse to hand undue advantage to badly-run companies.

The private millers have the backing of farmers.

Zoning remains a hot clause in the sugar regulations and will shape the way the document is received in Parliament.

Many believe the document has been the missing guide in the sugar industry.

Already, there is heavy lobbying by those who support or oppose the document, which ended public participation in August, and is awaiting final reshaping before presentation to the National Assembly.

According to the draft regulations, no new factory will be allowed in another miller’s registered zone.

It means those with weighbridges outside their zones would have to move them.

State-owned factories believe zoning is their only saviour in regard to securing their raw material planning. It enables them to know what volumes of cane to expect in which season and when it is altered.

Most usually stall due to lack of cane.

The public millers also say they have made direct and indirect interventions and support to ensure they have enough cane from their catchment areas and the “invasion” has financial implications.

“We have lost up to Sh2 billion worth of sugar cane through poaching in the last five years. It’s taking a toll on us because sugar production is essentially 60 per cent agricultural.

“The remaining percentage is in processing. They are reaping where they never sowed,” South Nyanza Sugar Company corporate planning and strategy manager Eliud Owuor said.

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The millers argue that the collapse of zoning is responsible for the little support farmers get in growing the capital-intensive crop since no one wants to commit on cane-growing.

The farmers, on the other hand, are happy because the absence of the zoning gives them the freedom to market their produce.

It allows them to sell to whoever pays promptly or higher.

After years of delayed payment and difficulties to even have their crop harvested when mature, farmers found freedom when private millers set up off-site weighbridges and cane collection centres.

Mr Moses Osoro, for example, has only known sugarcane farming in his entire life. He took up the venture after high school, attributes his success to private millers.

He says private firms revived his hopes and made him expand his farming business by leasing land in Fort-Ternan and Koru.

“I should be free to choose who to sell my cane to. It is unfair to restrict me to a company that does not pay on time. This is our way of life and the only source of livelihood,” Mr Osoro said as he ploughed his new plot with his tractor, the second he has bought in five years.

“I’m expanding this much because a private miller set up a cane collection centre near my home. I am told another is looking for a place to set up a weighbridge.”

The farmers, however, stand accused by State-owned millers of exploiting the loopholes provided by private firms.

The government factories say private companies take the cane at high prices yet farmers are supported to grow their crop by the State firms.

In the process, the money they owe the government millers is never repaid.

The farmers may then stop growing cane, fearing that the debt may be recovered at some point.

This creates the overall shortage responsible for the stops of the mills and by extension the delayed payments.

The public mills also claim the poaching game has opened floodgates for bad industry practices like harvesting immature crop.

Muhoroni Sugar Company Joint Receiver-Manager Francis Ooko said harvesting immature cane is bad even for the private millers.

“One even wonders what their rationale is because immature cane does not produce sugar. We also end up with a disrupted cane supply. That is why we feel the millers should have a demarcated region to source,” Mr Ooko said.

Another economic puzzle in the zoning debate surrounds the business sense behind trucking cane for more than 200 kilometres.

Those in support of zoning believe it is not economical to transport cane from the far flung areas, pay premium for it, mill and sell then sugar at a cheaper prices while paying farmers promptly.



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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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