Firm may close as sugarcane shortage bites

Thursday July 28 2011

By JOHN SHILITSA, [email protected] and ABIUD OCHIENG [email protected]

One of the three sugar milling companies in Kakamega County might close shop due to acute shortage of sugarcane.
West Kenya Sugar Company yesterday announced that raw material shortage had led to a drop in the amount of sugarcane crushed - from 3,500 tonnes of cane per day to 1,000 tonnes.

“We are currently receiving barely 1,000 tonnes of cane every day for crushing compared to about 2,700 tonnes we were receiving by early this month,” said human resources manager Michael Mechumo.
Mr Mechumo disclosed that West Kenya would soon lay off 300 workers following the shortage.

He said the crisis would mainly affect casual workers.

The company had resorted to harvesting sugarcane before reaching maturity due to scarcity. “By so doing, the farmer suffers huge losses in terms of low tonnes produced by such under-age crop while the firm suffers in terms of poor sucrose content which leads to production of molasses and brown sugar as opposed to white sugar,” Mr Mechumo said.

West Kenya has been compelled to halt production of white sugar “since we cannot get mature cane between the age of 18 months and 26 months as was the case in the past.”

The HR manager said the company had embarked on a sugar development project as a long term solution to perennial shortage.
At the same time, the sugar firm has scrapped zoning system in a move that would see farmers charged a flat rate of Sh390 on sugarcane transportation regardless of the distance from the factory.

Previously, farmers were charged between Sh413 and Sh1,100 depending on the distance from the factory.