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Food processors hit by industrial sugar shortage

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Moses Ikiara. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • The biting scarcity is being blamed on the slow pace at which the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) is clearing the commodity at the ports of entry following a recent scandal that toppled the agency’s leadership.
  • Kebs has recently increased the number of safety checks on imported raw materials in the wake of a multi-billion shilling scam that saw tonnes of contaminated sugar enter the local markets.
  • Manufacturers have warned that continued delays in the supply of the key ingredient could slow down the pace of production and cause job losses in the processed foods sub-sector.

An acute shortage of industrial sugar has set Kenya on the path to a major disruption in supplies of processed foods and confectionery, industrialists said.

The biting scarcity is being blamed on the slow pace at which the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) is clearing the commodity at the ports of entry following a recent scandal that toppled the agency’s leadership.

Kebs has recently increased the number of safety checks on imported raw materials in the wake of a multi-billion shilling scam that saw tonnes of contaminated sugar enter the local markets.

Manufacturers have warned that continued delays in the supply of the key ingredient could slow down the pace of production and cause job losses in the processed foods sub-sector.

“Delays in release of raw materials, including industrial sugar, is affecting production processes,” the Kenya Association of Manufacturers said in a statement, adding that this has forced some companies to shut down part of their operations.

Besides, KMA said, the delays have forced manufacturers to incur additional costs adding to the overall cost of production.

“Kenya Ports Authority says clearance at the port should take four days. But, delays caused by the retesting of imported raw materials has increased storage (KPA) and demurrage (shipping lines) charges ultimately increasing the cost of doing business,” said KMA.

The association further said the uncertainty surrounding the release of test results has left manufacturers without any timelines as to when they will receive their raw materials.

“Kebs officials insist they are conducting more checks to ascertain the levels of metals in the imported materials, but this is taking inordinately long and disrupting our operations,” a Nairobi-based manufacturer said.

“As we speak I have not produced for five days. My 250 employees are at home as a result and I have incurred losses of Sh25 million that could go up if the matter is not addressed urgently,” he said.

Acting Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) managing director Moses Ikiara acknowledged the delays even as he attributed them to heightened scrutiny and increased number of safety checks on imported industrial sugar to protect consumers against sub-standards goods.

“There is rising concern over importation of substandard counterfeits forcing the bureau to be much more vigilant,” said Mr Ikiara even as he insisted that industrial sugar imports are among the products that are taking long to test and approve.

“Indeed there were delays in the testing of industrial sugar over the past two months because the laboratories received multiple samples of sugar from the market in the wake of the recent challenges with the quality of imports.

Kebs said it was revamping its regional laboratories in Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret to reduce “any potential delays.”

“Imported consignments will now be cleared based on risk analysis that spares low risk imports from being subjected to further tests but are released based on the certificate of conformity,” said Kebs.

Early this year, a crackdown on illegal sugar imports led to confiscation of one million kilogrammes of the commodity from warehouses in various parts of the country.

The unprecedented crackdown targeted illicit goods to help boost Kenya’s manufacturing sector and safeguard consumer health.

Kebs, Port Health and the multi-agency team dealing with anti-illicit trade campaign have been collecting samples of imported raw materials for retesting.

Powdered sugars are used as icing sugar in baking and confectionery. Sugar syrups are used in beverages or as a base for fruit sauces, toppings and flavoured syrups.