Sweet potato farmers have been forced to stare at locked gates of a Ksh117 million plant launched in March as middlemen continue to harass them.
The project was launched by European Union ambassador Henriette Geiger, the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of devolution Julius Korir and former Migori governor Okoth Obado on March 28.
As far as 2016, sweet potatoes farmer shifting from tobacco farming started planting the crop in anticipation of the launch of the factory which can process over 100 tons of sweet potatoes daily.
“We got quality vines for farming since 2016, organized ourselves in groups and started planting sweet potatoes which take only three months to mature but nothing has materialized from the factory,” Samson Wankuru, the manager of Kuria West Sweet Potato Sacco said.
The Sacco which has 750 registered farmers has some members who left tobacco farming for sweet potato farming which has since been slowed down by the uncertainty of the factory opening.
“We hoped the factory will offer a ready market when it was launched but soon after it was launched, the big men closed it and left us to continue being harassed by middlemen from Nairobi,” Wankuru said.
Sospeter Rioba, who farms sweet potatoes on his 5-acre land said middlemen pay as low as Ksh1,800 for two sacks and insist on taking only medium size tubers leaving them counting massive losses.
“Middlemen come and pass by the factory but its doors remain shut. We wish it opens instead of being a centre where officials come with cameras just for the show,” he said.
Patrick Kehonga, a youth said they had hoped for job opportunities in the factory.
Clackson Mwita, MCA for Masaba ward where the factory is located said in the supplementary budget they had allocated Ksh11 million to kick start operations which he hoped will start soon.
“We hope work will start before March next year so as to avoid the factory lying idle for a full year, we want work to kick off,” Nwita said.
He said the factory was to open the market not only in Migori, but the region and several farm groups are looking forward to its opening.
Weeks ago, Migori agriculture executive Lucas Mosenda and the county team visited the factory which unlocked the supplementary budget amount but no definite date has been given for the start of operations.