Bill seeks to create sugar board, impose strict import rules

Mumias Sugar Factory

Loaders hang on to a tractor transporting sugarcane to Mumias Sugar Factory in February 2018.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Far-reaching reforms are lined up in the sugar sector even as the government starts the process of writing off Sh117 billion owed by public sugar millers.

Part of the reforms are contained in the Sugar Bill 2022, which seeks to create a new regulator, the Kenya Sugar Board, that will license firms as well as develop and promote the industry. It will also delink the sugar sector from the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA).

The Bill sponsored by Navakholo MP Emmanuel Wangwe proposes stringent rules, including requiring sugar importers to provide samples for testing before actual importation. This, according to Mr Wangwe, is aimed at protecting the local farmer from substandard products.

If the Bill, currently in the National Assembly, becomes law, the importation of sugar will only be done when there is a deficit of the commodity in the market. Those who flout this provision risk five years in jail or a fine not exceeding Sh10 million or both.

“A person who imports sugar into Kenya shall, prior to importation, provide evidence that the sugar they intend to import is not available in the local market and shall provide a sample of the sugar to be imported and a pre-import verification certificate from the country of origin,” the Bill reads.

Currently, sugar cane farmers are not protected by the government as sugar dealers continue to import the commodity and flooding the market.

The Bill also envisages the reintroduction of the Sugar Development Fund and Sugar Levy, abolished in 2013, to support sugar research at the Sugar Research Institute, with the management of extension services devolved to the county governments.

Investing in research is meant to assist in the development or adoption of faster-maturing varieties to replace the current one that matures after 24 months.

“The country yearns for varieties that mature quickly. We cannot continue to rely on these old varieties when the world is moving forward,” said Mr Wangwe.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said that Kenya made a “terrible” mistake to lump together key sectors under AFA.

“By doing so, we lost focus and the sugar sector, specifically, lost the attention it deserved. It killed the sugar board,” said Mr Wandayi. “Since the AFA Act came into force, the sugar sector has been going under.”

He also noted that the same people who are doing the sugar milling business in the country are the same ones doing importation.

“They are a cartel and we must stop them because they have brought the sugar factories to their knees,” the Ugunja MP said.

Mr Wandayi said the Bill would reintroduce the Kenya Sugar Board “that is more focused on issues of sugar development” noting that sugar has become a cash cow for leaders.

“Some of those who milked the sugar sector dry are now on the right side of the politics of the country and we know them,” said Mr Wandayi.  He cited the example of that Miwani Sugar, one of those publicly owned factories, saying it was run down and lost over 9,000 hectares of land to cartels.

Other public sugar millers are Muhoroni, Chemelil, Mumias, Nzoia and South Nyanza (Sony).

Over the years, the sugar sector has been plagued by non-payment of farmers, increased costs of sugar production, declining land acreage under sugar cane, lack of markets for the commodity, flooding of the market with cheap sugar and poor management.

In early 2021, the Cabinet endorsed the separation of AFA directorates into independent institutions through several Bills including the Coffee Bill, Pyrethrum and Industrial Crops Bill, Horticulture Crops Authority Bill, Fibre Crops Development Bill and Food Crops Development Bill.

Then Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said that since AFA came into force, the country’s cash crops had not received the attention they deserve.