A report by a task force proposing that sugarcane farmers be restricted to selling their produce to millers in their locality is retrogressive and should not be implemented.
Authors of the report say zoning will help curb the problem of cane poaching, adding that similar policies have been implemented successfully in other markets including Mauritius and South Africa.
The Kenyan experience is, however, different and it is a mistake to introduce restrictions that will benefit millers at the expense of farmers.
First of all, this proposal goes against free market economics. Why should farmers be stopped from selling their cane to companies offering the best price?
Producers of all sorts of commodities including avocado and macadamia seek the highest price in the local and international market. Implementing this recommendation risks leaving farmers trapped in exploitative relationships with inefficient and mismanaged millers.
It must be remembered that even under the current laissez-faire system, millers including Mumias Sugar Company have defaulted failed to pay farmers for years to the tune of billions of shillings.
With a captive farmer base, one can only imagine this situation getting worse. It is logical that farmers should seek the best prices for their products. Millers offering higher prices must have calculated that they can remain competitive and make a decent profit.
This fosters competition and ensures that companies that are managed well and have adequate funding will thrive, to the benefit of all stakeholders.
It is not a coincidence that most State-owned millers are struggling while new private entrants continue to enhance their production capacity.
Corruption, mismanagement and political interference are just some of the issues plaguing millers in which the government has controlling stakes.
The new proposals come after failure to privatise most of the State-owned millers, a move that could have sorted out their capital and management problems.
It is unconscionable to now ask farmers, who have paid a heavy price in choosing to grow cane, to make further sacrifices for the industry.
If the government is keen on implementing the proposals, it must also put in measures to safeguard farmers’ interests. There should, for instance, be a minimum price payable to all farmers.