Rejected law on sugar haunts cane growers

Mumias Sugar

Journalists at Mumias Sugar Company  gate after being denied entry as smoke billows out of the factory last week.

Photo credit: Isaac Wale | Nation Media Group

Sugarcane farmers are urging the State to protect them from low prices for their crop in the latest bid to turn around their bitter fortunes.

This is after a law meant to regulate the sub-sector including producer prices was shot down by a parliament team.

The Committee on Delegated Legislation in its report on the Crops (Sugar) (General) Regulations of 2020, said the Agriculture ministry did not undertake public participation contrary to the law.

The rules, which were gazetted in May last year among other things empowered Agriculture CS to form a committee to set prices for sugarcane delivered to millers to protect growers from unfair pricing.

And now the Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers (KNFSF), a lobby for sugarcane growers says they need a safety net from a looming market price destabilisation over planned importation of sugar to cover the country’s supply deficit.

Kenya does not set the price for sugarcane leaving thousands of growers at the mercy of factories and imports from the Common Market for Eastern Africa (Comesa) market.

Importation window

Calls to protect farmers come as the State prepares to open the window for importation of 210,163 tonnes needed to plug the supply gap of the sweetener.

Agriculture Secretary Peter Munya last week told Parliament that the country faces a shortage this year underlining the need to import from the Comesa market.

“The same way the Cabinet secretary has moved in to streamline the tea and coffee sectors, he should also come in and intervene in the sugar industry,” KNFSF chief executive officer Francis Waswa said in a statement.

“We have issues of prices and the Sugar Bill currently stuck in Parliament…farmers are really affected by unresolved factors affecting the industry, let him now focus on sugarcane farmers,” he said.

Kenya relies on imports to bridge the annual deficit and stabilise prices due to poor performance of local millers but the import window has in the past been abused with crooked dealers dumping the sweetener in the market and distorting prices.

Sugar prices fell

Sugar prices fell by up to Sh15 per two kilogramme packet at supermarkets shelved last month highlighting the low earnings that millers were paying farmers for sugarcane delivery.

The packet was attracting Sh220 last month from Sh235 in January while the one-kilogramme pack sold at for Sh115 from Sh125 in January.

The government has since last year been on a push to revive the once-vibrant industry that is now on its deathbed characterised by billions of shillings in debts to farmers, loans and tax arrears to the Kenya Revenue Authority.

The millers targeted for leasing include Nzoia sugar, Muhoroni sugar and Mumias but the liabilities of the State-run sugar millers are now Sh78.45 billion more than the value of assets, making the factories technically insolvent and delaying the privatisation plan.