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Sugarcane Farming in Kenya

Sugarcane Farming in Kenya

Sugarcane Farming in Kenya supports over 200,000 small – scale farmers in Kenya. In addition, an estimated six million Kenyans derive their livelihood directly or indirectly from the sugar industry. Domestic production of sugar saves the country about Kshs 45 billion in foreign exchange.

Sugarcane Farming in Kenya

More than five million people directly or indirectly depend on sugarcane farming in Kenya.  Most farming is in western Kenya. Previously some sugarcane was grown in parts of Coast Province.

Sugar-cane is a coarse perennial grass of the tropical world. It has tall stout canes that grow to a height of about three metres and yield sugar. In Kenya cane growing on a commercial scale began in Miwani and Kibos areas of Kisumu District and Ramisi and Shimoni areas of Kwale District between 1902 and 1940′. The early estates were operated by Asians. After independence, the Government began large scale sugar projects in Nyanza and Western Provinces in an attempt to meet the growing local sugar demands which were being supplemented by imports from Uganda.

Eighty eight per cent of area under sugarcane in Kenya is under out growers. The majorities are small-scale growers; the remaining is under sugar factories in the form of nucleus estates.

Currently, six sugar factories in Kenya function out of which one is entirely private (West Sugar company). Mumias Sugar Company was privatized in 2001, with Government majority shareholding.  The remaining factories are government owned-South Nyanza, Nzoia, Muhoroni and Chemelil.

Main Sugarcane Growing Areas in Kenya

Sugar-cane is grown in fairly flat regions which include:

The Nyanza Sugar-cane belt extending from Koru through Muhoroni and Chemelil to Kibos near Kisumu. Sugarcane is also grown in Kisii and Siaya Districts.

In Western Kenya, Mumias has dominated in sugar-cane cultivation.

Some sugar-cane is found in Bungoma around Nzoia and eastern parts of Busia.

In these areas, sugar-cane is grown on plantations owned by the factories and out- grower schemes. Sugar factories are dotted in sugar growing areas such as Muhoroni, Chemelil, Miwani and Sony in Nyanza Province, Mumias, Nzoia and West Kenya in Westem Province. Plans are under way to establish another sugar factory at Nambale in Busia District, Tana River District and Homa Bay District.

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Sugarcane Farming in Kenya

Sugarcane Farming in Kenya

Sugarcane Farming in Kenya – Ecological Requirement

The sugar-cane growing areas in Kenya i.e., the Lake and the Coastal regions experience the following conditions which are favourable for cane growing:

  1. Temperatures – The temperature should range from 20° to 27°C throughout the year. The dry sunny conditions are also of great advantage as they promote sugar accumulation.
  2. Rainfall –  should be ranging from 1200-1500 mm. In these regions there is no distinct dry season.
  3. Soil – The regions have deep fertile soils which are well drained. These include alluvial, clay soils and black cotton soil.
  4. Topology –  The areas should have undulating flat or gently sloping terrain which allows for mechanisation especially in land preparation e.g. ploughing, harrowing.
  5. Dry and sunny harvesting spell during the year which allows for maximum accumulation of sucrose and lases the harvesting and transportation of cane.

Sugarcane Farming in Kenya – Other Requirements

  1. The areas have a good infrastructural base for transporting cane to the factories. This has partly been achieved through the involvement of the sugar factories in road maintenance.
  2. The areas have dense population which provides labour for sugar growing. Sugar growing is labour intensive and a lot of labour is required for planting, weeding, application of fertilizer, and harvesting.
  3. Presence of a good network of roads which are well maintained linking the plantations and out -growers to the factory. This ensures quick processing of sugar to maintain quality.

Sugarcane Farming in Kenya

The land is first cleared, ploughed and then re-ploughed. Harrowing of the ploughed field is done. Cuttings from young cane plant 12- 15 months are planted. Buds from the cuttings sprout in a few days to form new stalk.

The plants are regularly weeded, and gapping done in initial stages. Later very little work is done on the farms as the crop grows.

Harvesting is done by hand at 18 months using a sharp panga.

The cane is loaded onto a truck and quickly transported to the factory to preserve the quality of the sugar.

Sugarcane Farming in Kenya – Processing

  1. Harvested canes are transported to the factory using either lorries or tractors.
  2. The sugarcanes are mechanically cut with rotating knives called shredders.
  3. The cut cane is then washed with sprayed water.
  4. Then it is crashed between rollers to obtain raw juice.
  5. The juice is then filtered to remove insoluble matter.
  6. The juice is then boiled with lime and allowed to crystallise to form raw or brown sugar
  7. The brown sugar is then refined to give brown and white sugar of different grades.

Sugarcane Farming in Kenya – Reasons for the sugar production deficit

Several reasons account for the sugar production deficit in Kenya and include:-

  1. Inefficiencies at the farm and factory levels leading to very high cost of production.
  2. Inadequate processing technologies.
  3. Liberalisation.
  4. Globalisation.
  5. Inadequate regulatory arrangements.

Uses of Sugar in Kenya

  1. It is used as a sweetener in beverages and various foods.
  2. It is used in making confectionaries e. g. bread, cakes, biscuits etc.
  3. It is used in making industrial alcohol e.g. ethanol.
  4. The by-products of the processing are used in the following ways:
  • Cane residue (bagasse) can be used as fuel, manure or fodder.
  • It can also be used as a raw material in the production of paper.
  • Molasses is used in the chemical industry to process industrial alcohol and produce fuel alcohol.

Marketing of Sugar in Kenya

The individual sugar factories are in charge of marketing their produce. This is done through the various wholesale outlets throughout the country. In most cases the sugar production has failed to meet the local needs hence leaving no surplus for export.

Sugarcane Out-grower Schemes in Kenya

The Role of the Out-grower Schemes Quite a number of people earn a living from sugar-cane as out-growers. The out-grower scheme has increased sugar-cane production.

This scheme is responsible for the management of local sugar-cane factories. The farmers have benefited from the scheme in the following ways:

  1. Extension services are available to them.
  2. They receive selected seeds for planting.
  3. The scheme avail fertilisers to them.
  4. Tractors for ploughing and labour for harvesting is hired by the factories, but paid for by the outgrower companies.

Problems Facing Sugarcane Farmers in Kenya

  1. Flooding of local market with cheap imported sugar leads to insufficient market for the local producers.
  2. Burning of cane by arsonists or accidental fire outbreaks make the farmers to incur heavy loses.
  3.  High cost of farm inputs which greatly reduces the farmer’s profit margins.
  4. Poor management of sugar factories and mismanagement of co-operatives. This leads to delayed and low payments to the farmers which lowers their morale.
  5. Delays in harvesting of sugar-cane clue to poor harvesting programmes by the factories disrupt the farmer’s planning.
  6. Disease e.g. ratoon stunting, mosaic, yellow wilt, leaf spot, smut etc. lowers the farmers’ yield and income.
  7. Over production: In sugar growing areas, the peasant farmers have planted only sugar-cane which at times exceeds the capacity of the local factories.
  8. Labour shortage during harvesting.
  9. Poor feeder roads lead to delivery of the harvested crop to the factory.
  10. Climatic hazards e.g. prolonged drought.

Significance of Sugarcane Farming in Kenya

Sugarcane growing in Kenya has resulted into the following benefits:

  1. It has created employment opportunities for many Kenyans. People have been employed in the sugar estates and factories.
  2. The establishment of sugar mills in the growing areas has contributed to industrial developments.
  3. It has provided raw materials for other industrial Plants e.g., those manufacturing industrial spirits.
  4. It has contributed to the growth of towns in the growing areas e.g. Muhoroni, Awendo, and Mumias.
  5. It has produced sugar for domestic use hence saving the foreign exchange that could be used for its importation.
  6. Farmers earn income through the sale of cane thus raising their standards of living.

The sugar sub-sector plays an important role in the country’s economy. It generates an estimated Sh 12 billion annually, provides about 500,000 jobs and supports livelihood of about six million people.

Total production of sugar stands at approximately 450,000 metric tonnes. Total demand for sugar in Kenya is 610,000 tonnes-the deficit is filed by imported sugar.

Of the imported sugar, between 80,000 to 100,000 tonnes are used as raw materials in the manufacture of beverages, confectionery, pharmaceuticals and other industrial products.

Sugarcane Farming in Kenya – Video


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