New cane price leaves sour taste in farmers' mouths

A stalled tractor loaded with sugarcane. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Cane farmers from Western Kenya are expressing deep frustration following a significant drop in the price of sugarcane by 21.5 per cent.

The Interim Sugarcane Pricing Committee made the announcement on Thursday after a meeting held in Kisumu.

“In the meeting to reassess sugarcane pricing, the committee has decided that the new price for sugarcane will be Sh5,100 effective Monday 8, 2024,” a statement from Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) Director Jude Chesire read.

The communication was addressed to Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi, the Principal Secretary at the Ministry, the AFA Acting Director General, and the Chairman of the Sugar Pricing Committee. Previously, sugar factories were paying farmers Sh6,500 per tonne of cane delivered for crushing before the AFA reviewed the price to Sh5,900 per tonne on March 5.

Yesterday’s announcement came as a shock to farmers and stakeholders who had hoped that sugar firms would maintain the Sh6,500 per tonne rate.

Farmers interviewed expressed regret that the announced price does not cover the high cost of production they incur.

Some farmers whose crop is due for harvest wondered why AFA was collaborating with the Cane Pricing Committee to lower the price at the expense of struggling growers.

“I was expecting to be paid Sh6,500 per ton when I harvest my mature crop around mid this month, but it seems the price would have dropped even further based on the rate at which AFA and the pricing committee are revising sugarcane buying prices,” said Patrick Kibisu, a farmer from Lurambi Sub County.

Charles Atiang’, the chairman of the Kenya Association of Sugarcane and Allied Products, argued that the development could demoralize farmers who often invest more in their crops than they receive.

Simon Wesechere, Secretary General of the Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers, lamented that fluctuating cane prices often lead farmers into a loss-making venture after a long wait.

“Sometimes you spend up to Sh 5,900, or even more, to produce a ton of sugar, yet you’ve waited for over a year for it to mature. This remains the key reason many farmers abandon the crop, leading to factories shutting down for four months due to cane shortages last year,” he said.

Wesechere regretted that current cane prices were determined unilaterally based on a formula that primarily considers the sugar price on shelves, overlooking other by-products such as molasses, ethanol, and co-generated electricity, which millers profit from.

“I understand that the (Sugar) Bill before the senate seeks to enforce similar reasoning so that we get some value for our hard work on the farms with the crop. If it fails, then the sub-sector will return to the cartels whose main aim is to suppress farmers’ productivity so they can thrive on imports,” he said.

William Kopi from the Butali Sugarcane Farmers Association stated that his over 40,000 members had anticipated a price revision upwards, not downwards.

“Most of our members are small-scale farmers who struggle to grow sugarcane as a source of livelihood, incurring significant expenses in production costs,” Kopi said.

He urged AFA and the cane pricing committee to reconsider the decision and push sugar millers to pay farmers over Sh6,500 per ton.

“For sugarcane farming to be economically viable, farmers must be adequately compensated. Reducing the price per ton is a setback for them,” Kopi emphasized. 

Want to get latest farming tips and videos?
Join Us