Mumias Sugar shuts for two weeks over lack of cane

Mumias Sugar Company. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Mumias Sugar Company has shut down its operations due to a lack of cane.

The company, run by Sarbjit Sigh Rai of Sarrai Group, Uganda, in a notice on Thursday, May 11, 2023, notice, said: “We are going to shut down our factory for two weeks with effect from Thursday (May 11, 2023) following an acute shortage of mature cane to crush. This is to allow the agriculture teams to carry out an assessment and cane inventory.”

It said further: “We shall communicate resumption of cane harvesting, through the agriculture teams, upon the lapse of the period.”

The announcement came amid stiff competition for mature cane among millers in Western Kenya, which pushed up the price of a ton of sugarcane to a record high of Sh5,500 last month, from Sh4,000.

This situation has been compounded by bad weather that has often affected the development of sugarcane. Many farmers are also banding the crop due to poor returns.

Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers (KNFSF) deputy secretary general Simon Wesechere said many sugar factories are likely to shut down their operations for a lack of cane.

“We have a problem in the Western sugar belt, especially after many farmers quit when factories fail to help them. This was the reason factories hiked cane buying prices after noticing the shortage and will soon be crushing below their optimum levels or will simply close down for lack of cane,” he said.

Wesechere added: “Some millers delayed and even failed to pay for cane supplied to them, forcing some farmers to quit cane production. You'll see them shut down, and they will tell you it is because of routine maintenance, yet the truth is they lack mature cane to crush.”

Raphael Welimo, a farmer from Matungu constituency who used to supply cane to Mumias, said the government should urgently address the failure of sugar companies to support cane farmers as part of efforts to stabilise the sugar sub-sector.

“Farmers have been left on their own. They cannot produce cane due to limited access to credit facilities that would have helped them get fertiliser, hire labour and till farms. This problem was compounded by the scrapping of the Sugar Development Levy (SDL). The government should seriously look into the issues affecting this section,” he said.

“The president has often pronounced himself on the issue of resuscitating the sub-sector, especially Mumias Sugar, even promising to get a new investor capable of recruiting more farmers and returning the factory to profitability. He ought to walk the talk,” said Welimo.

Last month, research by the Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) and the United States Department of Agriculture, predicted that Kenya’s sugar production would decrease from 690,000 metric tons (MT) to 660,000 MT, representing a four per cent drop. The decline, according to the survey, is due to lower sugarcane yields as high fertiliser prices triggered lower application.

Until the recent national and county governments' fertiliser subsidies, the input was retailing at Sh6,000 per 50kg bag, which was a 71 per cent increase from the previous year’s Sh3,500 per bag.

The study also projects that the 2022/23 imports triggered by cane shortage and rising demand for sugar are set to reach 500,000 MT from 375,000 MT. This comes even as the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) capped the limit at 180,000 MT, last year. 

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