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Cane farmers in Migori plead for their dues from miller

Hundreds of Sugarcane farmers in Migori have rejected a decision by Sony Sugar Company management to give first priority to those deemed to have ‘genuine problems’ in payment of debt arrears.
During a heated-meeting with farmers at the factory Sunday, acting managing director James Oluoch reported that they had set aside sh7.5 million to pay farmers arrears that have accrued since 2018.
However, Mr. Oluoch ‘s attempts to explain the criterion used to settled on those picked to benefit first failed as the furious farmers accused the management of only trying to pay their cronies, most of who were alleged to be senior employees of the company who are also growing cane.
The management said with effect from this week, they will pay farmers with sick relatives in hospitals, those with serious school fees problems and with dead relatives in mortuaries.
But majority of the farmers dismissed the criteria as a smack on their face arguing that all farmers have equal problems and must be treated the same.
“Sony knows very well that every farmer delivered his or her cane to earn a living and so it is baseless to think that others have more problems than their colleagues ,” rued Mrs. Caroline Nekesa, who said she is yet to be paid over Sh200,000 dues for cane she delivered in April 2018.
“After all, the amount the management is setting aside for farmers is too little owing to the fact that the factory has been running for over one week now and we are sure close to Sh50m has been generated during this period. They should tell us where they are taking the chunk of the money,” said another farmers, Peter Okello, who has a Sh350, 000 arrears stuck at the factory.
The cash-strapped company currently owes farmers over Sh550 million for cane delivered over the last two years. The government settled part of about Sh1billion arrears it owed the farmers early 2019.
However, while admitting that the company is facing a myriad of problems, Mr. Olouch asked farmers to support it by delivering their canes for it to continue running.
“Yes we have serious challenges of paying farmers and workers but these will be solved only if you support us by delivering your produce so that we can continue crushing and settling the debts we owe you with the little money that comes out from the process,” he told the farmers.
But the farmers said they will never deliver their cane again to Sony until they get all their money.
The miller also owes transporters some Sh35 million while workers are yet to be paid their five month salary arrears.
Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers Union says the problems facing the factory have been as a result of corruption and mismanagement of the plant.
Union branch chairman John Odondi said the government must now intervene to save the factory from going down and farmers from losing their dues.
“We have a board that has no interest of seeing the factory coming back to life. These are people who run Sony from Nairobi, spending millions of public funds flying to useless meetings at the city,” said Mr. Odondi.
It also emerged during the meeting between the management and farmers Sunday that farmers who had received seed cane, fertilizers and had their farms ploughed by Sony were selling their harvested cane to the private millers, making Sony lose heavily in terms of income in the process.
By George Agimba

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