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Researchers advise raising import cost, dismantling cartels to revive sugar sector

Sugar farm

By George Munene 

According to a research paper published in December of this year (2022) dubbed “A review of the state of sugar cane crisis in Kenya” raising the cost of imported sugar, protecting local producers from sugar cartels, and lowering the cost of domestic production were identified as the key ways of reviving the country’s moribund sugar sector.

Commercial sugar cane production was introduced in Kenya in 1922 with an aim of attaining sugar security to counter dependence on sugar importation. 1978 marked the only year that Kenya produced a sugar surplus which led the government to license private mills to increase the country’s national milling capacity. This began the steep decline of the country’s sugar sector marred by controversies, challenges, and politics disadvantaging the public mills to the current point where the sector faces imminent collapse.

The paper developed by Josephat Barasa Kombo and Alice Chesambu Ndiema of Kibabii and Masinde Muliro Universities respectively analysed the state of the sugar cane crisis as perceived by a range of scholars between 1981 and 2022.

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It noted that Kenya’s sugar industry is increasingly getting skewed towards importation as the country remains an attractive destination for imported sugar and a lucrative playfield for sugar cartels.

The researchers further highlighted the economic rationale and opportunity for revival of sugar cane farming in Kenya as reflected in profitability of sugar cane production, agro-ecological potential, and public goodwill. 

Ranking the causes of the state of sugar cane crisis in Kenya and further in the context of Kenya’s sugar industry which blends production and importation, the following alternative hypothesis were identified to provide critical pathways to revival of sugar cane farming;

Hypothesis I: the higher the cost of importation, the higher the stakeholders’ focus on revival of domestic sugarcane production.

Hypothesis 2: the lower the cost of domestic production, the higher the stakeholders’ focus on revival of domestic cane farming.

Hypothesis 3: Enhanced border and market surveillance services promotes revival of domestic production by protecting local producers from sugar cartels.

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Hypothesis 4: Improvement of land administration services promotes revival of domestic sugar cane farming.

Hypothesis 5: Improvement of production services promotes revival of domestic sugarcane production.

This model the paper noted is primarily based on the assumptions that when all other factors are held constant, the state of sugar cane crisis in Kenya is attributed to the identified and specified causes.

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