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Kenya faces local sugar deficit following biting cane shortage

A crane offloads sugarcane from a tractor at Kibos Weighbridge in Kisumu. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI
A crane offloads sugarcane from a tractor at Kibos Weighbridge in Kisumu. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI 

Kenya is staring at a sugar deficit following an acute shortage of cane that could see consumers continue paying high prices.

A recent report on sugar status by Sugar Directorate indicates there will be a shortage of 1.9 million tonnes of sugarcane in 2016/2017 fiscal year, creating a huge production deficit.

Millers are already crushing below installed capacity as the shortage takes its toll on production.

Nzoia Sugar Company is currently milling less than 2,000 tonnes of cane per day (TCD) against the installed capacity of 3,000 according to the management.

Sony Sugar managing director Jane Odhiambo told the Business Daily that they are milling well below optimal level.

“We are milling below our capacity of 3,000 tonnes and our problem is compounded by the ongoing rains that have made it impossible for the tractors to move and collect cane from farms,” said Ms Odhiambo.

Head of the directorate Solomon Odera said the shortage has been occasioned by lack of proper cane development by millers.

“There is a sugarcane shortage in most of the growing zones and this will likely lead to a decline in sugar production,” said Mr Odera.

The report indicates that Mumias had projected cane availability of 917,141 tonnes between July and June 2016.

However, between July and October, the miller had only managed to crush 91,260.

Mumias, in which the government has a majority stake is struggling to mill due to an acute shortage that has seen the once vibrant miller operate at less than 30 per cent of its installed capacity.

The volume of sugarcane crushed by the miller in the six months to December 2016 dropped by 45 per cent from 581,541 tonnes the previous year to 319,746 tonnes.

As a result of the decline in volumes of cane crushed, the quantity of sugar manufactured dropped by 67 per cent in the year ending December to 12,197 tonnes from 36,510 in the previous year.

Last year Kenya won another extension on safeguards that restrict cheap imports from Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa). 

Kenya produces about 600,000 tonnes of sugar a year, compared with annual consumption of 800,000 tonnes. The deficit is covered by strictly controlled imports from Comesa countries.

The shortage has been so severe that some millers have been forced to harvest immature cane for milling to sustain operations.

Millers, especially the State-owned ones are performing poorly leading to low sugar production in the country.