Kenya: Kisii Farmers’ Long Wait for Nyangweta Forest Sugar Factory

The environment is calm and serene and the leaves are producing some sort of cool music as they sway in the winds.

The sight of the green, tall, straight but thin trees with little vegetation at their base is also fulfilling.

It is often said that time spent among trees is never time wasted and being in Nyangweta forest in South Mugirango, Kisii County, is just that.

Nyangweta covers 104 hectares, almost half of the county’s total forest cover, which stands at about 228.4 hectares.

It is the largest of the eight designated government forests in the region.

Nyangweta is one of the very few forest lands that remain undisturbed in Kisii and Nyamira counties.

The forest was planted with commercial pine, eucalyptus and cypress trees in early 1990s.

Suffering farmers

When the Nation.Africa visited on Tuesday, a few women were in the forest collecting firewood while men were grazing cattle.

Four years ago, the Kisii County government announced plans to use part of the forest for the South Mugirango sugar factory.

In May last year, county Land Registrar Steve Mokaya confirmed that he had released the title deed for 120 acres.

The document came two years after the Senate Committee on Land, Environment and Natural Resources gave its nod for the tract to be hived off to build the factory.

“The South Mugirango Nyataro 2358 is subdivided into two pieces – 4006, which is 18.53 hectares, and 4007 that measures 45.41 hectares. The titles were issued on June 9, 2020,” Mr Mokaya said.

But even with the approvals, the factory is yet to kick off and farmers are calling on the county government to expedite its plans.

Borabu Chitago MCA Andrew Kimonge said residents are eagerly waiting for the factory, saying sugarcane farmers in the region have suffered for too long.

Massive losses

Cane for sugar production in Kisii is largely grown in South Mugirango constituency and locals have been hoping the proposed sugar factory will materialise and help turn around the economy of the region.

Though the area is also known for soapstone production, fortunes have been dwindling in this sector, forcing residents to explore alternative sources of income.

“We are waiting for the sugar factory. We have continued to protect Nyangweta forest for years and we will continue doing so. As a community, we gave part of the forest for the factory and it is all we want so as to develop economically,” Mr Kimonge said.

Area MP Silvanus Osoro has been pushing the county government to fast-track the construction of the factory, which he believes will revamp the local economy.

Farmers on Sunday said delays in setting up the factory have made them suffer massive losses because their mature cane is going to waste on their farms.

Kisii Sugarcane Outgrowers Cooperative Society chairman Joshua Onguti said many farmers in the region had decided to diversify from maize, beans, tea and coffee farming with hopes for better returns in sugarcane farming.

“Most farmers in Kisii County regret embracing sugarcane farming, since it takes 18 months to mature and now we have farmers with sugarcane over 24 months. They are yet to get returns from their investment due to the lack of a ready factory for the crop,” Mr Onguti said.

Zablon Martin, the coordinator of the Outgrowers Cooperative Society, appealed to the county government to expedite the establishment of the factory in order to assist Kisii farmers, who feel that factories in neighbouring Narok, Migori and Homa Bay counties had no time for them.

“The people of South Mugirango constituency look forward to the establishment of the proposed sugar factory in our region since it will not only provide a ready market for our sugarcane crop but also create job opportunities for locals, improving their economic status for the better,” Mr Martin said.

Seeking approval

But Kisii Governor James Ongwae said construction work will begin after final approvals are granted by the sugar directorate.