A drought that has hit many parts of the western Kenya sugar belt is worsening the problem of cane shortage that has persisted in the milling zones.
Together with the politics surrounding the control of sugarcane growing areas, the industry faces hurdles in ensuring a stable supply of cane that will beat the competition posed by cheap sugar imports which are finding their place in the local market.
“The drought may worsen the situation where local millers cannot fill the quota allocated for local production leading to erratic supply” said Kenya Sugar Board chief executive Rosemary Mkok.
Ms Mkoko raised fears that the cane scarcity that has plagued the local millers may result into unstable supply of sugar in the country.
She said that the board plans to spend Sh2.3 billion funding farmers to expand cane production and this will factor in issues of drought as a constraint to sufficient cane production.
Kenya Union of Sugar Plantation and Allied Workers chairman Francis Wangara said that the drought is bound to make farmers incur massive losses because it will result to poor yields.
He expressed fears that in the event that the government fails to provide a permanent solution that will make farmers deviate from dependence on rain-fed agriculture, the losses will remain a common occurrence in the sugar industry.
“During drought, a harvest of 6,000 acres can be compared to that of 4,000 acres when there is sufficient water, this reduction in tonnage per acre hurts farmers. This can be reversed through a government’s intervention by establishing irrigation systems for growers,” said Mr Wangara.
“The farms are at more risk of fire as most of the sugarcane is now dry; any delayed harvesting can be disastrous in case of a fire outbreak” Mr Wangara said.
“To avert cane shortage, the government, through the Kenya Sugar Board must look into ways of loaning farmers so that the catchment area for cane production is increased” said Mr Wangara.
However, the opinion is divided with Miwani Milling Zone chairman Samuel Anyango saying that the drought effect is minimal with the main problem of cane shortage resting on the companies buying sugarcane outside their designated zones.
“The drying cane is a result of uncontrolled purchase of cane outside designated milling zones by various companies; the farmers in the forsaken zones stand to lose big” said Mr Anyango.
Citing the current conflict between Kibos sugar and Miwani sugar over the revival of the defunct Miwani Sugar factory, Mr Anyango added that it was necessary for the Kenya Sugar Board to adopt a holistic approach in dealing with the problems facing the sugar industry which stretch beyond erratic weather patterns.
“It is upon the Kenya Sugar Board to look out for strategies that will resolve the challenges faced by farmers involved in sugarcane production; these issues are what will push many farmers out of the business,” he said.