No sugarcane to crush: Sugar mills suspend production

Nzoia Sugar Company, along with several other sugar milling factories in Kenya, has been forced to temporarily halt its operations due to a shortage of sugarcane.

In a memo dated July 25, the company instructed non-essential employees to stop work while they sought alternative sources for the required raw materials.

“A lean staff from Agriculture and the Agricultural Serviced Department will undertake Cane Development to ensure an adequate supply of raw materials,” part of the memo read.

The scarcity of sugarcane has also prompted West Sugar Company to suspend its staff for two months, allowing time for the crop to mature.

A meeting was also held in Kisumu on July 13, requesting all millers in Western Kenya to suspend cane harvesting because they have been harvesting pre-mature cane.

Nzoia Sugar Company, along with West Kenya, Butali, Mumias, Kibos, and Busia sugar factories, have temporarily closed their operations.

The growing number of new sugar mills in the Western region has aggravated the issue, as these mills have failed to adequately plan for cane supply. Consequently, the number of cane farmers has been declining while the number of factories has increased, leading to dependency on a small group of remaining cane farmers.

The removal of cane zoning by the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) has allowed factories to source cane from anywhere without regulation. As a result, the factories are now struggling to harvest enough cane, depleting the mature cane reserves and accepting anything that remotely resembles cane.

Historically, Kenyan sugar factories have not been able to meet market demands even at their best, resulting in a reliance on sugar imports to bridge the gap. To address the current shortage, some suggest that individual factories should be given operating zones and encouraged to heavily invest in their own cane production by supporting and contracting farmers.

In response to the inadequate sugar crisis, the Kenyan government opened an import window in December 2022, allowing duty-free sugar imports of 100,000 metric tons from outside the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) region. This move aimed to mitigate the impending sugar shortage in the country.

Kenya, being a member of Comesa, does not impose duties on sugar imports from other partner states. The government further approved the duty-free importation of 200,000 metric tons of sugar in May, in addition to significant imports of maize and rice to address the looming food crisis.

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u officially gazetted duty-free importation to alleviate the country’s sugar crisis and impending food scarcity on December 22, 2023.

As the sugar industry grapples with raw material shortages and inefficiencies, stakeholders are calling for comprehensive measures to support sustainable cane farming and rejuvenate the sector’s viability in Kenya.

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