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Looming sugar crisis as shortage hits COMESA market

Sugar prices are expected to rise further in the coming months due to an acute shortage of the commodity in the COMESA market.

This comes amidst a ban on sugarcane milling in Western Kenya and the Nyando Sugar belt with fears that the prices could jump further amidst high demand.

Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) Chairman Cronelly Serem said the closure of mills in the affected regions was occasioned by a shortage of sugarcane.

The ban which ends in December 1, 2023, he said targets to ensure the millers have enough cane to crush to help the country bridge the shortage of the sweetener.

Serem attributed the shortage to a prolonged dry spell early in the year and lack of proper cane development programmes by millers.

The drought, he added, has also affected production within the COMESA market leading to the gaps in supply of the commodity in the country.

Companies which were licensed to import sugar to address the shortage, he said were experiencing difficulties due to the shortage of the commodity in the COMESA market.

Kenya relies heavily on imports mainly from the COMESA region to bridge the local sugar deficit.

Serem said the country imports 282,000 metric tonnes of sugar annually from the COMESA region but since January, the companies licensed to import have only managed 85, 000 metric tonnes.

 “We will continue to experience a shortage of the commodity on the shelves since there is no sugar in the COMESA region,” he said.

Speaking in Kisumu on Tuesday during a meeting with millers to assess the situation of sugarcane in the country, Serem said the ban on Milling in Western Kenya and Nyando region was still in force.

“No miller shall be allowed to crush cane in this region because the sugarcane is immature and has low sucrose level which will not be beneficial to the millers and the farmers,” he said.

Even though three companies from the area have applied to Afa to be allowed to crush, he said a technical team shall be dispatched to assess the cane as requested by the firms before giving the greenlight to crush.

He expressed optimism that by December all the millers in the affected region would have enough cane to crush.

“When we open in December we expect them to start crushing gradually until June when they can go full scale,” he said.

The shortage of raw materials, he said was occasioned by lack of proper cane development programmes and regulations adding that all the millers have been directed to invest in sugarcane production to ensure steady supply.

Kenya Sugarcane Millers Association Chairman Jayanti Patel said the millers were in agreement with the ban and directive to invest in cane development.

“We confirm that there is no sugarcane in the western part of Kenya. The investment we have in the sector is massive, that is why we have agreed to collaborate so that we get back to business,” he said.

By Chris Mahandara

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