Sugar cane farmers have called for a new audit on the country’s sugar deficit, saying outdated data on the shortfall risks facilitating higher import volumes at the expense of local producers.
The Kenya Sugarcane Growers Association said despite the number of operational factories doubling to 10 in the past few years, the annual deficit remains static at 200,000 metric tonnes.
The association said going by the daily crushed cane volumes of more than 10,000 tonnes, the sugar deficit ought not to be higher than 50,000 metric tonnes.
“When we only had five sugar factories in Kenya, the deficit was at 200,000 metric tonnes. We are simply asking why with 10 factories crushing cane the deficit is the same,” said secretary-general Richard Ogendo.
“We are concerned that this can be abused to justify the importation of duty-free sugar into the country.”
Agriculture and Food Authority Sugar Directorate director Willis Audi, however, argued that the deficit has remained high due to a rise in demand.
He said Kenya’s sugar consumption per capita in 2018 stood at 15.8kg but has now gone up to more than 18kg.
“As the population grows, the consumption of sugar also goes up. The total consumption is 900,000 metric tonnes annually while the industrial sugar demand is at 150,000 metric tonnes,” said Mr Audi.
“We don’t have factories producing industrial sugar. We had Miwani Sugar Company, which has since collapsed, meaning we have to import all the industrial sugar.”
Official data shows Kenya’s annual sugar production in 2020 was 603,800 tonnes against the consumption of 1.04 million tonnes, meaning the country had to import 444,500 tonnes.
Kenya, however, imported 981,000 tonnes of sugar between May and December last year following the opening of the duty-free window to bridge a local shortage that caused a spike in prices.
Sugar imports from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa bloc, where the country imports a bulk of the commodity, is capped at 210,000 tonnes, with duty free imports previously capped at 300,000 tonnes but revised down earlier this year by the Treasury to 210,000 tonnes to avoid flooding of the market with cheap sweetener.