Sugarcane farming is the main economic activity of western Kenya and parts of the Coast. About six million Kenyans directly or indirectly rely on the sugar industry for their livelihood.
The Big Four Agenda places sugarcane as one of the agro-processing target crops to help move manufacturing from eight per cent to 16 per cent - contributing to 20 per cent increased GDP.
According to the World Bank, about 80 per cent of sugar production in Kenya is from smallholder farms with production heavily reliant on rain-fed systems. The Western Kenya circuit supports about 400,000 smallholder farming households.
In some areas, sugarcane covers three times more land than other crops. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the needs for food and raw materials will drive the demand for agricultural commodities like sugar over the next ten years. For almost three decades, sugarcane farming has become a burden to the farmer. After 24 months of waiting for the cane to mature, the farmer chases payment for months.
Over the past decades, tales from cane growing zones has not been rosy with families agonising over inability to take their children to school, high school drop out rates, early marriages, high crime rates, suicide cases among other worrying trends. Sugarcane farming is today characterised by delayed payments, high harvesting charges and transport costs, inflated cost of farm inputs and low cane price.
Others are delayed or non-harvest of sugarcane, survey charges, furrowing costs, cost of fertiliser, seed-cane charges and labour cost which comprise 67 per cent of the overall cost of production.
Our cost of producing a tonne of sugar is on average $800 (Sh85,000) compared to Madagascar’s $543.92 (Sh60,000), Malawi $540.93 (Sh61,560) and Uganda $670.01 (Sh76,380).
The presidential task force in 2018 recommended implementation of an efficient and cost-reduction strategy along the sugar value chain, and prompt payments to farmers.
Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) says the fight against illicit sugar importation, stable policy environment, affordable energy, prompt payment of farmers will help revive the sugar industry. The State must also implement the sugar taskforce recommendations
The writer is a Lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University