Cane farmers want Comesa import safeguards extended

John Okoti Kamuye in his sugarcane farm in Bulecha village, Kakamega County. [Standard]

Sugarcane farmers are pushing for the extension of restrictions on sugar imports.

The Kenya National Alliance of Sugarcane Farmers Organisation says with the looming expiry of import safeguards by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), farmers might lose market for their produce.

The safeguards allow Kenya to limit duty-free sugar imports from Comesa countries to a maximum of 350,000 tonnes annually.

The organisation's chairman Saulo Busolo said the safeguard measures, which were introduced in 2002 and have been extended nine times, have had some success.

“If the sugar imports keep coming without restrictions, it will not safeguard farmers and the prices of sugar will be depressed. In the end, the sugar industry will die,” he said.

Kenya’s sugar production cost is estimated at more than Sh60,000 per tonne, twice that of other key sugar-producing Comesa countries, making the country an attractive export market.

The call for the extension comes months after the Agriculture ministry banned the importation of raw cane and brown sugar.

The ban in July led to a decline in sugar production among local millers, who fill the deficit with the importation of raw sugarcane from Uganda. As it stands, the country currently is unable to compete with other member states on duty-free quota-free terms.

This made the government lease some State-owned factories that have declined due to mismanagement, corruption and influx of cheap imports.