Bitterness as hoarding causes shortage, high prices of sugar

An empty sugar shelf at a supermarket in Kisumu on Saturday, August 18, 2018. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]
Confusion has hit the sugar sector amid shortages, hiked prices, alleged hoarding and uncertainty of safety of the product in the market. 

A week after MPs rejected a report on the importation of contaminated sugar, the industry appeared to be in turmoil even as questions arose over the whereabouts of the bad sugar confiscated by the police.

The report was expected to shed light on the safety of the sugar and the people behind the duty-free imports.

Saturday, leading supermarkets in Kisumu had no sugar, with managers saying they were turning to Tanzania and Uganda for fresh supplies, which have also been hindered by customs regulations.

The supermarket managers suspected that some manufacturers were hoarding the commodity as they awaited an increase in prices.

The two Tuskys supermarkets in Kisumu had no sugar on their shelves.

“The last consignment we received came from Tanzania and Uganda a month ago and we sold the last packet Saturday. “Our attempts to ship more have been thwarted by border officials,” said a Tuskys customer care officer.

The only sugar available in a few supermarkets but at double the price was branded Kabrass, West Kenya and Nutrameal which is packaged by Kamili Packers based in Industrial Area in Nairobi. It was retailing at Sh295 for a 2kg packet, an increase of about Sh50. A kilo was selling at Sh160.

None of the State-owned millers – Nzoia, Chemelil, Muhoroni and Sony – had their brands on sale in Kisumu.

One supermarket was selling sugar labelled Kakira SugarFactory and we could not immediately ascertain if it was genuinely a product of the Ugandan miller.

Sony Sugar brand was in a few supermarkets in Siaya but the price had shot up to Sh350kg for a two kilo pack, while Star Sugar from an unspecified miller in Uganda was retailing at Sh270 for two kilos.

A manager at one of the Choppies supermarkets in Kisumu told the Sunday Standard they had not been getting supplies for the past one week.

“We don’t know what is happening. We suspect some millers are hoarding sugar in anticipation of a price hike,” said the manager who asked not to be named.

But an official of the Kenya Sugarcane Millers Association, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the shortage could be as a result of a slowed down production by State-owned factories.

“I doubt if there is any hoarding. The fact is that the State-owned millers have either not been producing or had scaled down milling because of the heavy rains that messed up roads or uncertainty in the market due to the imports,” said the official.

But consumers have also expressed fears over the quality of sugar in the market.

The presence of unbranded sugar in leading supermarkets in Nyanza has also heightened the speculation over the safety of the products.

Stakeholders in the sugar industry now want the government to produce the contraband sugar in order to assure them that they are safe and their businesses are not at risk.

[Kevin Omollo, Eric Abuga, Mactilda Mbenywe, Mary Otieno and Olivia Odhiambo]

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Sugar pricesSugar shortageContraband sugarSugar imports