STATE NOT DOING ENOUGH

Sugarcane farmers protest reduced prices

Western region growers call for engagement with Agriculture ministry and millers on regulating cheap imports

In Summary
  • The sugar pricing committee operates under the Agriculture and Food Authority domiciled in the ministry of agriculture.
  • They said that sugar was being smuggled into the country through the Kenya-Uganda common border in Busia county.
Kenya Association of Sugar and Allied Products secretary general Peter Odima in Busia.
Kenya Association of Sugar and Allied Products secretary general Peter Odima in Busia.
Image: HILTON OTENYO

Sugarcane farmers in the Western region have accused the government of failing to regulate the cheap sugar imports chocking the industry.

The farmers say the government is not doing enough to protect the industry from unfair competition.

In a statement issued in Mumias town on Monday, they attributed last month's sugarcane price reduction by the sugar pricing committee on saturation of the market with cheap imports.

The farmers, in a statement read by Kenya Association of Sugar and Allied Products secretary general Peter Odima, said uncontrolled importation will force small factories to close up shop and discourage farmers willing to resume cane growing from doing so.

Hundreds of farmers, particularly in Kakamega, abandoned cane farming when the giant Mumias Sugar Company started facing financial difficulties close to 10 years ago.

They said the glut created by the cheap imports in the market has distorted cane prices, forcing the pricing committee to lower prices.

The sugar pricing committee announced a reduction of the price of one tonne of sugarcane from Sh4,040 to Sh3,833 effective this month, citing excessive sugar in the market.

The committee operates under the Agriculture and Food Authority domiciled in the Agriculture ministry.

There are 14 sugar factories with a total milling capacity of 41,000 daily.

The factories have, however, failed to operate optimally to satisfy the annual demand of 850,000 tonnes because of many challenges and inefficiencies.

This results in an annual deficit of both table and refined sugar of about 200,000 tonnes to be met through imports from the Comesa region and globally.

The farmers urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene and have the imports stopped to protect the already struggling factories from imminent collapse.

“It beats logic that the 200,000 tonnes annual deficit of table sugar in Kenya has remained so for decades, despite the number of sugar milers increasing over years,” Odima said.

He said the government always allows sugar barons to import excess sugar into the country during electioneering to profit while farmers suffer.

“We are left to wonder whether the government is committed to protecting sugarcane farmers and local sugar industry or it is serving the interests of the sugar barons,” he said.

The farmers want Agriculture CS Peter Munya to stop the imports.

Odima said flooding of the market with cheap imports has adverse effects on farmers and local sugar factories, most of them which are struggling under poor management and heavy debts.

“We are privy to information that unscrupulous traders are now manufacturing bags that are branded with logos of some local sugar factories and then use them to repackage imported sugar. We are calling on the relevant authorities to act with speed,” he said.

They said sugar was being smuggled into the country through the Kenya-Uganda common border in Busia county.

He said it was unfortunate that while there is a regulation of sugarcane pricing at the moment, there is no corresponding regulation on the prices of farm inputs.

The farmers now want a constructive engagement with the Agriculture ministry and millers on the issue of cheap imports and cane pricing.

“We want the government to put in place concrete measures to develop the industry, including reviewing the sugar import quota downwards and regulation of the prices of imported sugar to level the playing ground,” Odima said.

The industry contributes to food security, employment creation, regional development and improved livelihoods for more than eight million Kenyans.

It is a source of income for over 400,000 small-scale farmers who supply over 90 per cent of the milled cane.

Kenya has an annual requirement of 160,000 metric tons of refined sugar, which the country does not currently produce.

Sugarcane is grown in 14 counties spread across Western, Nyanza, Rift Valley and coastal regions mainly on smallholders.

Sugarcane growing in Kenya started in early 1900 when it was introduced around Lake Victoria by Indian labourers engaged in the construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway.

The first sugar factory was established at Miwani in Kisumu county in 1922, followed by Ramisi in 1927 in Kwale county.

Before Independence, the sugar sector was dominated by private investors with large-scale production.

-Edited by SKanyara