AGATHA NGOTHO @agathangotho/ The future of Kenya’s sugar industry is uncertain. A sector that employed hundreds of thousands directly and indirectly when life was sweet is struggling today, as many farmers abandon cane.
For a decade, the sector has grappled with low production, low prices, mismanagement of companies and now the sugar scandal. More than 1.4 million bags of contaminated contraband sugar were discovered.
Still, farmers are optimistic that privatisation will restore order.
After Independence, the government expanded production by investing in growing schemes and factories. They included Muhoroni Sugar in 1966, Chemelil in 1968, Mumias in 1973, Nzoia in 1978 and South Nyanza Sugar Company (Sony)-Awendo in 1979.
Privately owned companies include West Kenya, Kibos Sugar and Allied Industries Limited, Butali Sugar Mills, Transmara, Sukari Industries Limited, Kwale International and Kisii Sugar Factory.
According to the May report by the Agriculture and Food Authority, sugar production fell from 55,494 tonnes in January to 27,517 tonnes in May.
“Decrease in production is noted in all factories, with most sugar factories operating below 50 per cent of installed crushing capacity. This is due to acute cane shortage in most zones, aggravated by heavy rainfall making it extremely difficult to transport cane from the field,” the AFA report stated.
The decrease is also attributed to the closure of sugar factories, including Mumias, which stopped milling in March due to low cane delivery as a result of huge debts to farmers. unsettled farmers payment arrears. Kwale International, Chemelil and Sukari were closed for annual maintenance.
Kenya is a sugar-deficit country importing from Comesa and other countries, including Brazil. Imports in May dropped by 37 per cent to 19,081 tonnes from 30,089 tonnes imported in the same period last year. Table sugar imports totalled 5,732 tonnes, while refined white sugar was 13,349 tonnes.
Comesa countries supplied 7,581 tonnes, EAC 5,232 tonnes and, other countries exported 6,268 tonnes.
And yet Kenya also exported sugar. Exports in January-May totalled 1,020.7 tonnes against 146 tonnes in the same period last year.
From January-May, 18 per cent production increase was reported, totalling 218,685 tonnes, compared to 185,879 tonnes last year.
Production increased steadily from August 2017 to January due to improved performance in Nzoia, West Kenya, Butali, Sukari and Kwale sugar factories in that period,” the report stated.
In this special report, cane farmers reminisce about the good old days as they wonder if the cane farming will ever be the same again.