Business Daily (Nairobi)

14 November 2011

Kenya: Address Challenges Facing Sugar Industry O Save It From Imminent Collapse

The low crushing levels of most sugar companies in Kenya is as a result of inadequate cane supply.

This has consequently resulted in the high sugar prices. In the past, the government used to import sugar from other Comesa countries to alleviate the situation but this time, the high sugar prices globally haven't made it possible.

The government needs to right the wrong in the industry to save the workers, farmers and consumers.

Kenya's massive sugar industry is ailed by many problems right from the farm level the factories to the management. In my view, the problem originates from the regulatory agency Kenya sugar board.

As a regulatory agency the board should go slow on the current blitz of licensing more sugar companies.

The earlier rule of maintaining a 40 kilometre radius between companies has been flouted by the regulatory authority. This has led to court battles between sugar companies.

The Kenya sugar board should not just look at the 40km radius rule but also license new companies based on the crushing capacity of the existing ones.

One of the challenges facing the sugar sector is the declining productivity per hectare. There are other problems that have led to the decline in productivity.

The single largest contributor is disillusionment on the part of the farmers. In the recent past cane farming hasn't been well paying, this led to many farmers neglecting the crop for other crops like maize and subsistence farming, and for the few that engaged in the crop, there was inadequate application of farm inputs.

Over 80 per cent of Kenya's cane farming land is made up of small-scale farmers with less than six acres.

Thus makes it difficult for mechanisation and most cannot be able to benefit from economies of scale. The cost of production has thus gone up.

The government needs to view legislation to stop continual sub-division of farms into uneconomical units.

This will also save crops like coffee, tea and horticultural crops.

Poaching as a challenge in the sugar industry hasn't been adequately addressed.

There is need for legislation to be established that will push for stiffer penalty for cane poachers.

One can't fully address the challenges facing the sugar industry at the farm level without mentioning effect of soil compaction.

The heavy machinery that take part in the transport activity in the cane farms have led to soil compaction leading to hard pans in most of the farms.

The sugar companies also need to adopt faster maturing cane varieties that can withstand different weather conditions.

Mr Obara comments on issues affecting the sugar industry.

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