• The porous Kenya-Uganda border has become a route for smugglers to dump cheap sugar imports into the local market
• There are 14 sugar factories with a total milling capacity of 41,000 tonnes daily.
A lobby group wants the government to decisively deal with the smuggling of sugar into the country.
Kenya Association of Sugar and Allies Products secretary general Peter Odima said the porous Kenya-Uganda border has become a route for smugglers to dump cheap sugar into the local market.
“If there is a deficit that necessitates importation of sugar, sugar companies should be allocated to import the required amount, according to capacities of an individual mill,” he said.
“We have held meetings with senior government officials over the illegal imports, but no one seems to be interested in dealing with the matter. In the beginning, it was the importation of raw cane. Now it’s sugar.”
In September this year, more than 800-50kg bags of uncustomed sugar were impounded in Bungoma. The sugar was suspected to have originated from Uganda.
In the first incident, one person was shot dead by police after a group of youths attempted to free a suspected contraband sugar dealer at Makunga market in Kakamega county.
The officers were escorting a lorry that was impounded by police at Chwele in Bungoma while ferrying 400-50kg bags of uncustomed sugar.
They were escorting the lorry to the Kisumu regional KRA offices but upon reaching Makunga market, the officers were blocked by about 20 vehicles and motorbikes, carrying the youths, who demanded that they release the lorry.
On September 28, police acting on a tip-off intercepted another 489 bags of contraband sugar in Bungoma destined for Nakuru county. They arrested three suspects.
“The saturation of cheap sugar imports in the local market has had adverse effects on Kenyan farmers and local sugar factories,” Odima said.
But police in the Western region have said the situation is not alarming.
Western regional police commander Perris Kimani said security patrols and surveillance have been beefed up along the common border to forestall any smuggling activities.
“We have our multi-sectoral operation along the common border. The fact that the police have been intercepting uncustomed sugar and arresting the dealers demonstrates police are working. One cannot then claim that nothing is being done,” she said.
Anyone found sneaking sugar into the country from Uganda will be arrested, charged and forced to pay the duty he or she is trying to evade, Kimani warned.
Two months ago, the sugar pricing committee under the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) announced a reduction in the price of a tonne of sugar cane from Sh4,040 to Sh3,833.
Cane farmers attributed the price reduction to excessive imports of cheap sugar. There are 14 sugar factories with a total milling capacity of 41,000 tonnes 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 table and refined sugar of about 200,000 tonnes to be met through imports from the Comesa region and globally.
Bunge la Haki Usawa na Maendeleo, a local sugar cane farmers’ rights lobby group, said on Monday that the industry is being run by cartels.
“We are left to wonder if the Kenyan government is committed to protecting sugar cane farmers and the local sugar industry or if it's serving the interests of the cheap sugar importers,” group chairperson Boniface Manda said.
He said while there are regulations on sugar cane prices at the moment, the same cannot be said of the price of farm input.
Edited by A.N