A major sugar shortage is looming as sugar millers contend with huge deficit in sugarcane supply.
The shortage is imminent despite the boost given to some of the sugar factories by the government.
According to data from the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA), between December 2019 and June 2020 about 3,430,616 tonnes of cane will be available for crushing against the required 5,767,000 tonnes. This reflects a deficit of 2,360,330 tonnes.
The same statistics show that in the 2020-21 financial year, a deficit of 3,264,578 tonnes will be recorded since only 6,897,647 tonnes will be available against a demand of 9,971,000 tonnes.
It is against this backdrop that the agency is appealing to sugar companies to give cane development priority, and to pay contracted farmers on time, which is one way of encouraging them to embrace cane farming.
According to a survey by AFA, conducted between December 9 and 22 2019, only two factories - West Kenya and Olepito Sugar factories - are guaranteed sufficient sugarcane for crushing.
Other factories that were sampled are Chemelil, Muhoroni, Mumias, Nzoia, South Nyanza, Kibos, Soin, Butali, Miwani, Sukari, Transmara, Kwale, and Busia Sugar.
West Kenya has the biggest number of hectares, 85,000, under cane farming spread across Kisumu, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Nandi, Kakamega and Bungoma counties.
It is followed by Nzoia Sugar which has 38,230 hectares.
Mumias has only 15,000. Chemelil has 34,000, Butali (30,000) and Busia Sugar (31,000).
“Almost all the millers will experience cane supply deficits," reads the AFA survey..
"The sugar industry calls for strategies to enhance cane development.”
Due to limited supply, factories at the border county of Busia are sourcing for sugarcane from Uganda.
The window for cane importation has been stretched to December 2020.
A weigh bridge has been put up near Busia Airstrip to check the trucks ferrying cane from Uganda.
Cane farmers in Busia are concerned that excessive importation from Uganda will lead to a drop in cane prices.
The Standard has established that a tonne of cane is procured from Uganda at Sh2,500; in Busia, a tonne goes for Sh3,500.
Steven Kiptel from Teso South is one of the disgruntled farmers. He has 287 acres under sugarcane.
Mr Kiptel has been growing sugarcane for the past 11 years. He is worried that after spending a lot of money developing his crop, he may reap little profit because of the importation.
Kiptel wants the government to control the amount of sugarcane from Uganda.
“Some of the policies the government moots do not favour farmers," said Kiptel.
"Was the importation order really based on a shortage of cane?”
In Uganda, Masil Cane Growers Association Ltd chairman Robert Magoma said: "We have a lot of sugarcane here but the millers are few. An agreement between Kenya and Uganda has opened up the Kenyan market.”