By Edwin Okoth
Only one out of the five state owned sugar cane millers is operational with fears that it may soon breathe its last.
Muhoroni, Chemelil, Nzoia and Mumias (partly state owned) have all stalled leaving the South Nyanza-based Sony Sugar limping in the now dead sugar milling industry in Kenya.
The surviving miller has not paid salary for the last two months and has not paid farmers since December, a sign that it may not last long.
At Muhoroni, the miller's sudden halting last month left workers without pay since the year began and farmers debts at over Sh300 million.
The miller whose crushing capacity is 2,200 tonnes of cane per day stopped milling in a move attributed to cane shortage.
Insiders say the miller could hardly get even a quarter of cane to mill by the time it stopped.
A major lifeline in the region, the miller's death has 'killed' businesses turning the town into a sleepy, insecure and shanty village where very little is happening ac-cording to residents.
"We have had so many cases of mobile money shops being invaded because cane cutters and other casual workers have been rendered jobless. The workers who were sent on six week leave went home empty handed after months without pay. It is really bad here," Mr Charles Anyumba, a secretary to the farmers' union told the Nation.
The neighbouring Chemelil Sugar Company stopped milling in February with workers unpaid for ten months and farmers owned hundreds of millions.
The two millers stopping at the same time has aggravated the economic woes of the region reliant on the sugar value chain including transporters and suppliers of various commodities.
Like Muhoroni, Chemelil is said to have been unable to gather cane to meet the minimum daily crushing capacity of 1,500 tonnes, let alone hit its optimal level of 2,700 tonnes per day.
Last week, the factory had its electricity disconnected over unpaid bills. A worker at the miller said even statutory deductions have not been paid with their access to health not possible.
The workers have been surviving on relief food given to flood victims who were affected the recent heavy downpours, a sorry state for economic giants of the region.
"We don't even have water in our company residents and we are forced to carry out maintenance like clearing bushes around the house. We have electricity be-cause we are prepaid meters, otherwise it would have been worse by now," the worker told Nation.
The miller which has been in government's hands since 1974 has been operating with frequent stops as it keeps being maintained including last year's Sh265 mil-lion maintenance.
In Western Kenya, Nzoia Sugar stopped milling in March with farmers left unpaid. The miller who recently applied for an import permit to ship in 200,000 metric tonnes of sugar is said to have suffered the same fate of raw material deficiency amidst stiff competition from private millers.
The private millers who have established offsite weighbridges to collect cane and truck them to their factories have edged out the state millers whose payments are known to delay.
The move has left farmers with no option but to sell to the quick-cash millers leaving the state-owned miller without cane to crush.
Mumias which has largely been privatised also stalled in April with over Sh600 million unpaid to farmers. Once the largest miller in the country, the company is a shadow of its former self with the famous brand missing from retail shelves for months now.