Sugar saga: Case of popular lies against unpopular truth


Jonathan Swift, an Anglo-Irish satirist and political propagandist explained the relationship between lies and truth in politics in 1710 when he wrote on the ‘The Examiner’ that ‘falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it’.

Sir Winston Churchill, a Nobel Laureate and astute politician went a step farther and stated that ‘a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on’ and Churchill would know; he served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdome twice; 1940 to 1945 and 1951 to 1955.

The truism of the statements above cannot be better represented than in the ongoing political debate between the Jubilee ruling political establishment, and the CORD Opposition, as I learnt from a colleague whose father is a small-scale sugar cane farmer in Mumias.

Most small-scale sugar cane farmers operate on ‘contract’ with the sugarcane factories. The contract is an agreement between the farmer who owns the land and a specific sugarcane factory. The farmer provides land and the factory supplies the farmer with everything they need to produce sugarcane; seedlings, fertilizer, harvesting resources, transport to the factory, etc. The farmer guarantees not to grow anything else on their land for the duration of the contract, and to only sell their produce to that specific factory. The factory buys the produce from the farmer and pays the farmer net of the costs incurred to produce the cane.

This is a brilliant way of helping small scale farmers that has proven to work quite well in other agricultural sectors like coffee, tea and dairy. However as I learnt, it has been a disaster for sugarcane.

Apparently in the sugarcane sector the sugarcane factory has complete control over the farmer. They make all the decisions on the farm including determining the quality and tonnage of the produce; without any input from the farmer. Prices for the supplies sold to the farmer are decided by the company and most times not disclosed to the farmer at point of supply; they are not even allowed to compare with similar products in the market. Sugarcane is harvested and carted off to the factory even before being weighed because weighing is done at the factory and the farmer has to agree to whatever the factory says is the weight of their cane.

Incredibly if the cane is lost on transit, even if it is a case where the transporter (who is contracted by the factory) has an accident, the loss is on the farmer. The factory can also decide to plant experimental seedlings on a farm and if they make fail, the losses are on the farmer. The factory also decides when your produce is ready for harvest and – again incredibly – they can come and cut your cane even at mid-maturity and sell it as ‘seedlings’ to someone else and any losses in this process will be borne by the farmer.

Today some farmers sell the fertilizer they are given rather than use it in the farm. Others let their cows graze on the cane for milk. Others ‘steal’ from themselves and sell to other factories for cash … especially the private ones. This is what happens when a farmer realizes that one can plant a crop, wait for 16 months, sell it to a factory, and be left owing the factory money!

This is what has destroyed our sugar industry.

One would expect political leaders from sugarcane growing areas to want to help the over 250,000 small-scale farmers get out of this kind of slavery. I would even support them if they called for mass action against the sugar cane factories. This is why they get voted for.

But no!

These political ‘leaders’ (who are ironically all in the Opposition) would rather use the sugarcane farmers current status of slavery to their political advantage rather partner with government to sort out the situation. They would rather accuse the government of killing the sugarcane industry despite the facts above than ask how Ugandan and Tanzanian factories are able to produce sugar at half the cost of Kenyan factories, while Kenya is technologically more advanced than her neighbours.

These ‘leaders’ would rather sensationally claim Uhuru Kenyatta has entered into a ‘deal’ with Yoweri Museveni than admit that Kenya has always imported sugar; even when Raila Odinga was Prime Minister; to cover a national deficit caused by the mismanagement of our sugar sector at local level.

It is maddening when unpopular truth is judged against deliberately crafted popular lies. It is annoying when those propagating such lies know the truth. It is upsetting when such lies are used as a recovery strategy by an Opposition smarting from being called hypocrites by President Obama in their own country. But Jubilee must not lose hope. Buddha said three things cannot be long hidden; the sun, the moon… and the truth.

(Wambugu is a Director of Change Associates, a political consultancy)

9 Replies to “Sugar saga: Case of popular lies against unpopular truth”

  1. Well spoken.This should be told to the famers and they understand and exactly know who is undermining their interest.

    1. You had a good point but with a bias. The small scale farmers are Kenyans and they don’t belong to the opposition government but the jubilee government .Why can’t the government try and solve the problems of its citizens unless you want to tell us that these farmers are governed by the opposition!

  2. I usually buy Mumias sugar because I have always believed that in doing so I’m supporting my fellow countrymen who are farmers. If it is indeed true that all we are doing is keeping the farmer in perpetual poverty , it doesn’t matter which way we look at it. It is slavery pure and simple. This is “blood sugar”.

  3. …and on the sugar deal again.. who is going to benefit in the export business. milk and meat?? Kenyans? no… just a few business tycoons who went to strike business deal in exchange of the blood of the peasant sugar farmers.. i rest my case.

  4. Nice piece… 100% true but it deviates from the real issue here…. The sugar importation from uganda. How does the importation bring parity in the above matter? How is the local farmer going to benefit even 2% from the deal? U have become a political tool. This isnt about the opposition. Wish you could be pointing out the sugar cartels in Black and white

  5. The article represents but one side of the coin. what story does the side he has left blank tell i wonder!

  6. while the corruption and exploitation of the farmer is going on what corrective action has the famers govt of the day taken to protect him

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