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Tobacco farmers stage demo over unpaid dues

18 August 2014, 12:47 Oduor Omondi

Migori - Business came to a standstill in Kehancha town in Migori County Saturday after hundreds of tobacco farmers staged a demonstration demanding over KES 100 million they owe a tobacco buying firm.

The Mastermind Tobacco contracted farmers wanted immediate release of their dues accumulated over the past eight months.

The arrears included crop bonuses arising from sales made in January this year, they said at the Kehancha sub-County offices where they had stormed for redress after blocking roads leading to Kehancha town.

Carrying placards and twigs and singing solidarity songs, the visibly enraged farmers gave the firm a week’s notice to pay them their dues failure to which they will seek legal redress over the matter.

“We are no longer going to wait for our dues. The firm must now pay all our dues plus interest or else a court battle will be instituted against the management in the next one week,” warned Chacha Sagame, a farmer from Ntimaru area of Kuria East sub-County.

The over 1 500 farmers led by their representatives said the delay in payment had adversely affected lives, with some families breaking as a result of lack of trust between couples.

"Some wives have separated with their husbands whom they accused of embezzling money from crops sold to the firm," claimed Sagame.

He said farmers grew tobacco exclusively as a cash crop using bank loans which they have to repay, adding the company had now messed up their lives and exposed them to the dangers of being auctioned.

“We are unable to pay school fees for our children besides planting new crops this season due to lack of money to prepare our farms and buy inputs,” said Samson Sorai, a farmer and a representative of farmers in Taranganya areas.

“It is painful that our colleagues contracted by BAT and Alliance One have all been paid their dues when Mastermind is engaging us in cat and mouse games with our money," he lamented.

But addressing farmers, Simon Aura, the Kehancha leaf center manager promised to pay all the dues owed to farmers in the next few days.

“We are working on ways to pay our farmers their dues and soon we will be able to settle the pay and the bonus,” he said.

Aura said the matter was being addressed from Mastermind headquarters in Nairobi and will give the definite date the farmers will be paid.

Migori County produces over 70 percent of tobacco nationally but farmers still live in abject poverty with nothing to show for their hard work.

The war between the firm and farmers over delayed payments has drawn anger from other quarters, with the Governor, Zachary Obado recently threatening to kick out the company from the area.

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