Sugar production down 31pc in seven months on cane shortage

A crane offloads sugarcane from a tractor. FILE PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NMG

Output of sugar from local millers has dropped by nearly a third in seven months due to a shortage of cane, with the scarcity sharply pushing prices to a record high.

Analysis of the latest data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows domestic production of sugar dropped to 332,034 tonnes in the seven months to July, marking a 31.2 percent decline from 482,871 tonnes last year.

The drop has been a nightmare for consumers as sugar prices have risen at the fastest rate of any food commodity over the past year.

According to KNBS data, the cost of sugar has gone up by 61.4 percent over the past year. In comparison, the price of beans has risen by 27.9 percent and that of maize flour and cooking oil has increased by 9.6 percent and 18.5 percent respectively.

A spot check at Naivas Supermarket on Friday showed a kilogramme of sugar was retailing at between Sh213 and Sh225. At Carrefour, prices of the sweetener start at Sh210 per kilo.

During the seven months, the highest production was recorded in January when output peaked at 81,648 tonnes before rapidly dropping to 31,495 tonnes in May.

Kenya has 16 sugar factories out of which five – Miwani, Chemelil, Muhoroni, Nzoia, and South Nyanza — are owned by the government which also has a stake in Mumias Sugar which is now under receivership.

The millers have been facing a severe shortage of cane this year having largely depleted stocks of mature cane that even forced some millers to crush immature cane.

Some millers reduced the crushing schedule to a few days in a week to allow them to mop up sufficient cane. Others also temporarily closed their factories to do maintenance and upgrade.

The dire situation forced the government to step in by declining to renew their licences in July, thereby suspending milling until November to allow the cane to mature in what has seen local production plummet.

By last month, only three factories – Transmara, Sony, and Sukari – were still milling.

“Total sugarcane milled by all sugar factories dropped by 10 percent to 395,232 tonnes in July 2023 from 436,694 tonnes in June. Sugar made similarly decreased to 33,328 tonnes from 34,373 tonnes in June,” said the Agriculture and Food Authority.

“The drop is attributed to the closure of mills in the Western and Kisumu region.”

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