The price of sugar in the country is likely to go up in the coming months due to the current acute shortage in the Comesa region.
This is happening as companies licenced to import sugar struggle to find the commodity outside the country to plug the current deficit.
On Thursday, the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) admitted the possibility of a sugar crisis after the volumes of imports failed to meet the projected volume.
According to AFA chairperson Cornelly Serem, the shortage in the Comesa region is attributed to the long period of drought that hindered cane development.
Speaking in Kisumu during a sugarcane review meeting in the country, Serem noted that the situation is likely to land the country into a dire shortage after companies that were licensed to import sugar from the Comesa region failed to bring in enough quantity.
According to Serem, Kenya imports up to 282,000 metric tons of sugar annually from Comesa member States to bridge the gap left by what is produced locally. However, currently, licensed importers have only delivered 85000 metric tons.
This means that Kenyans will have to dig deeper into their pockets to purchase sugar. Currently, one kilogram of sugar retails between Sh220 and Sh250 in most shops. Two Kilogrammes retail between Sh420 and Sh450, depending on the brand.
The developments also come at a time when AFA has extended the ban on sugar milling to December 1 to allow for cane to mature, effectively ruling out the chances of increased volumes from the local sugar industry in the short term.
In the meeting with various players in the sugar sector, it was also resolved that the ban on sugar milling that affected a number of factories in west Kenya and Nyando Sugar belt be sustained until December 1 to allow sugarcane to mature.
"We came to do a review and know the status of cane availability in the country. We have made a ruling that the status quo remains. Factories will remain closed until December," Serem said.
This move, he said, is targeted to protect the interests of the sugarcane farmers while also ensuring that there is enough sugar in the country. Crushing of immature sugarcane, he said, will see farmers run into losses due to lack of weight as well as low sucrose.
Kenya Sugar Millers Association chairperson Jayanti Patel emphasised the need for compliance with the AFA directive to millers, noting that indeed there's no enough sugarcane in the country.
"We have confirmed that there is no mature sugarcane currently in Western Kenya and also in the Nyando belt. With consultation with AFA, we have closed the factories and all millers have agreed to let the cane grow until December when we will have mature sugarcane to mill and get good sugar from them," Patel said.
Serem, however, said that the authority has opened an olive branch to factories with enough mature sugarcane to make formal applications so that they be allowed to continue with their milling activities. This application will be subjected to technical assessment by the authority to ascertain the availability of the cane by the factories.
So far, three factories, including Kisumu-based Kibos Sugar factory, Busia and Olepito in Trans Mara region, have made their application to be allowed to crush cane, according to the authority.
There are fears some rogue businessmen could take advantage of the current situation to horde sugar in order to worsen the shortage, with an eye on ballooning prices.
The struggling sugar industry, whose financial mess has left thousands jobless and farmers impoverished, is a topic that has dominated President William Ruto’s goal for the country, but farmers insist the future is still bleak for the sector and describe the revival attempts as public relations stunts.
The status of the State-owned millers are also in deplorable state with farmers claiming that they have been compelled to wait for several months before receiving any pay for the cane delivered.