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State admits unable to trace substandard sugar in the market

Workers destroy contraband sugar and rice at the Kenya Ports Authority, Mombasa. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

The government has acknowledged its role in the country’s persistent high sugar prices and its inability to effectively trace the origins of millions of tonnes of sugar within the domestic market.

In a new draft policy already cleared by Cabinet dubbed, Seeking to Revitalise the Sugar Industry, the State sheds light on the underlying issues contributing to the flooding of foreign sugar imports into the country and why it can’t trace all the sugar being sold to Kenyans.

The State proposes key measures to rectify the situation and enable Kenyans to access the sweetener and create jobs and business opportunities.

In a candid admission, the government concedes that lax enforcement of standards, porous borders, and fragmented regulatory oversight have all played a part in creating an environment where substandard sugar finds its way into the market.

“Sugar repackaging with subpar labels due to lax standards enforcement leads to weak traceability and quality control. This sugar is not only cheaper but its quality cannot be vouched for, exposing consumers to health risks,” says the policy in part. These policy revelations come amidst growing concern over rising sugar prices and the integrity of the sugar supply chain.

Prices have doubled in the last two months from Sh200 for a 2kg packet of sugar to Sh500. This, the policy states, does not only compromise the traceability of sugar sources but also raises concerns about the quality and safety of the sugar available to consumers. “Kenya does not produce refined sugar; therefore, it has to meet this need through importation, creating an opportunity for diversion of the same to the consumer market,” states the policy document.

Why your sugar is expensive

The government’s policy highlights a range of challenges that have constrained the performance of the sugar industry, including high production costs, inadequate cane supply, low productivity, inefficient processing, delayed payments to farmers, illegal imports, and inadequate support services and infrastructure.

“Over the years, the performance of the industry has been constrained by high costs of production, inadequate cane supply, low sugarcane productivity and quality, inefficient processing of sugar, low-value addition initiatives, delayed payment to cane farmers, illegal sugar imports, poor technology dissemination and adoption, high levels of indebtedness, especially among public-owned mills, and inadequate support services and infrastructure,” The policy states.

To revitalise the industry, the draft policy emphasizes the need for sustainable cane supply, improved milling processes, a conducive business environment, enhanced support services, and strengthened institutional arrangements for effective governance.

State Department of Crop Development Principal Secretary Kello Harsama underscored the policy’s objectives, stating that the primary aim is to rejuvenate the sugar industry and make it competitive and sustainable. “Development of this policy has taken into account past attempts to improve the industry and involved all stakeholders,” Harsama said.

The policy outlines a roadmap to achieve this through various means, including ensuring the supply of quality sugarcane, providing fair returns for farmers, fostering a favourable business environment, and establishing robust governance mechanisms.

Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture and Livestock Development Mithika Linturi says the draft policy aims to develop a guideline that will facilitate the revitalisation needed for sustainable sugar and other allied industries’ growth and development.

“It endeavours to identify the salient relationships and linkages between the key stakeholders in the sugar industry, as well as provide a framework to guide specific policy actions/interventions, key one being government share divesture,” Linturi said.

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