The Future of Sugarcane farming in Kenya!


-proposed zoning poses significant threats and risks to sugarcane cultivation-

A sugar-cane farmer /Image courtesy

Sugarcane, a tropical crop thriving in regions abundant with rainfall, sunlight, and well-drained fertile soil, was introduced to Kenya from Southeast Asia. It predominantly flourishes in fourteen Kenyan counties: Kakamega, Nandi, Homa Bay, Bungoma, Busia, Bomet, Vihiga, Trans Nzoia, Kisumu, Migori, Kisii, Narok, Kericho, and Siaya.

On September 8, 2023, Kenya hosted its inaugural Sugarcane Conference in Kakamega County. This landmark event brought together stakeholders from the fourteen sugarcane-growing counties to address the sector’s prevailing challenges. The conference yielded long-term solutions, which promise to revitalize the ailing Kenyan sugarcane industry for the next decade.

Among the resolutions reached were the restoration of farmers’ outgrower companies, thorough audits of farmers’ debts, zoning of cane cultivation into clustered regions, the establishment of guidelines for sugarcane harvesting and transportation, and the adoption of robust sugarcane development practices, among other measures.

However, long-standing farmers expressed reservations about the proposed zoning, contending that it poses significant threats and risks to sugarcane cultivation. Martine Lukunza, a veteran sugarcane farmer, recalled past difficulties when the industry was concentrated within a single company in Kakamega. This led to considerable losses for many farmers, as their harvests often went unsold or were used as firewood due to the scarcity of processing facilities.

Martine went on to highlight that the current Chief Justice, Martha Koome, had ruled on a zoning case during her tenure at the Court of Appeal. Justice Koome’s ruling asserted that sugarcane is part of a free market and not subject to zoning. Farmers are now urging proponents of zoning to reconsider in light of this legal precedent.

Image courtesy

Sugarcane production faces numerous challenges in Kenya, as noted by Joyce Odare. These include declining soil fertility, the use of low-quality seeds, inadequate weed control methods, market cartels, corruption, the importation of various sugarcane varieties, and sector-wide competitiveness. The high cost of fertilizers has also led many farmers to neglect sugarcane cultivation in favor of other crops, resulting in reduced sugarcane supply for processing. Furthermore, outdated technology in most factories has forced some to cease operations due to financial constraints.

Francis Atwoli, General Secretary of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU), proposed a unified approach to combat these challenges. He suggested the formation of a single sugarcane belt company that would encompass major entities like Sony Sugar, Mumias, Nzoia Sugar, and South Nyanza Sugar Company. Atwoli further advocated for the involvement of international experts, such as those from Mauritius, to oversee the implementation and enhancement of mechanisms. With support from both county and national governments, this unified approach aims to create a formidable industry player, capable of competing on a global scale.

As farmers eagerly await government action on the proposals endorsed during the conference, it is imperative that the government takes proactive measures to ensure the continued growth and prosperity of the sugarcane industry. This would not only benefit farmers but also contribute significantly to the creation of industrial jobs on a large scale.




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