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.
Sugarcane 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 the 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
Sugarcane 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 Western Province. Plans are underway to establish another sugar factory at Nambale in Busia District, Tana River District and Homa Bay District.
Sugarcane Farming in Kenya – Ecological Requirement
The sugarcane growing areas in Kenya i.e., the Lake and the Coastal regions experience the following conditions which are favourable for cane growing:
- 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.
- Rainfall – should be ranging from 1200-1500 mm. In these regions, there is no distinct dry season.
- Soil – The regions have deep fertile soils which are well drained. These include alluvial, clay soils and black cotton soil.
- Topology – The areas should have undulating flat or gently sloping terrain which allows for mechanisation especially in land preparation e.g. ploughing, harrowing.
- Dry and sunny harvesting spell during the year which allows for the maximum accumulation of sucrose and lases the harvesting and transportation of cane.
Sugarcane Farming in Kenya – Other Requirements
- 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.
- The areas have a 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.
- Presence of a good network of roads which are well maintained linking the plantations and out -growers to the factor
- This ensures quick processing of sugar to maintain quality.
Sugarcane Farming in Kenya – Land Preparaion.
Land should be ploughed deeply to remove obstacles and plant debris, tractor drawn implements are more preferable especially the disc plough as it helps in the achievement of the required tilth. Land preparation should be done during the dry season to avoid formation of “hard pans” which affect drainage and root penetration into the soil.
Secondary cultivation is also recommended to further break the soil clods, refining the tilth, trash removal and laying out the field. Chisel or subsoilers are the most effective implements for this operation, the implement should be adjusted to plough to a depth of 50cm to 75cm in order to break any hardpan that might be present. Levelling should follow to allow the require drainage on the cane field. Planting furrows should be made at a depth of 25cm.
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 a new stalk.
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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 – Planting
There are two planting methods namely ridge and furrow, flat methods. Ridge and furrow are preferred due to moisture retention. Planting should be done during the onset of rain if rain-fed, irrigated crop can be planted during any spell.
Planting should be done at a spacing of 1.0m by 1.3m by 0.5m depending on soil fertility and cane variety in question. Diammonium phosphate can be spread in the planting furrows just before planting as it helps in development and growth of roots, enhancing rapid establishment of the crop.
NPK are the major nutrient requirement and they should be sufficient for crop growth and development. Top dressing should be done 30-45 days after planting, this is the tillering stage of the crop and requires high levels of nitrogen, N also helps in canopy development.
Phosphorus should be supplemented during the formative phase though from the initial crop establishment it should be in adequate as it helps in good root formation hence helping the plants to feed at ease.
Potassium should be appliedalongside nitrogen as it helps utilization of N, it also helps in sugar recovery hence should be applied at the 6th month of crop growth.
The frequency of irrigation depends on the stage of development of the cane. Light, frequent irrigations are preferred when the seed is germinating and the young seedlings are getting established. As the root system extends into deeper and deeper into the soil, the irrigation intervals should be extended, and the amount of water applied with each irrigation increased.
As the cane approaches maturity, extended irrigation intervals should be scheduled to reduce the rate of vegetative growth, dehydrate the cane, and force the conversation of reducing sugars to recoverable sucrose.
Mechanical weeding should be done where applicable, selective herbicides can be utilized where mechanical weeding is uneconomical. The field should be kept weed free throughout the growing period to avoid competition for crop nutrients and alternating of pests such as aphids.
Sugarcane Farming in Kenya – Pest Control
Early shoot borer
The pest attacks the shoot and cane stems just before nodes start forming, it feeds on the shoot and internal system of the stem. Affected plants have stunted growth and may die resulting to low plant population. Plants that survive the pest injuries have low sugar quality, especially when the stems are attacked.
The pest attacks the crop immediately after internodes starts forming. It destroys the stem lowering the quality, affected plants show stunted growth hence crop uniformity is compromised.
Most prevalent in hot humid conditions, they are found on the internode with sheath. Shoots of the affected plants die, leaves die at the tips and turn pale yellow which finally turn yellow.
Majorly attack the crop after plantingdamaging the soft tissues, severe attack leads to weak plants with reduced vigor.
Sucking insects, deprive plants moisture leading to retarded growth, they produce honey dew that covers the leaf surface reducing photosynthetic area. They also cause substantial sugar loss up to 3%.
Sugarcane Farming in Kenya – Harvesting
Sugarcane harvesting is done in between 9-24 months, its recommended to use a very sharp panga that will not destroy the stump for easy and faster regeneration. Some farmers set fir first to drive away snakes and to clear excess leaves that hinder fast harvesting operation, this should be highly discouraged as the fire might spread to unintended areas. Well managed sugarcane field should yield roughly 45-53 tonnes per hectare.
Post Harvesting and Handling
Harvested canes should be loaded into lorries or tractors and taken to the factory after harvesting for crushing, this ensures good quality sugar. All canes should be collected from the field to avoid quantity loss, the transporting lorry/tractor should be loaded properly as it has been noted that there has been substantial quantity loss between the farms and factory during transportation. Contractsed transporters should be monitored as they transport canes from farms to factories
Sugarcane Farming in Kenya – Processing
- Harvested canes are transported to the factory using either lorries or tractors.
- The sugarcanes are mechanically cut with rotating knives called shredders.
- The cut cane is then washed with sprayed water.
- Then it is crushed between rollers to obtain raw juice.
- The juice is then filtered to remove insoluble matter.
- The juice is then boiled with lime and allowed to crystallise to form raw or brown sugar
- 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:-
- Inefficiencies at the farm and factory levels leading to the very high cost of production.
- Inadequate processing technologies.
- Inadequate regulatory arrangements.
Uses of Sugar in Kenya
- It is used as a sweetener in beverages and various foods.
- It is used in making confectionaries e. g. bread, cakes, biscuits etc.
- It is used in making industrial alcohol e.g. ethanol.
- 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:
- Extension services are available to them.
- They receive selected seeds for planting.
- The scheme avail fertilisers to them.
- 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
- Flooding of the local market with cheap imported sugar leads to insufficient market for the local producers.
- Burning of cane by arsonists or accidental ﬁre outbreaks make the farmers incur heavy losses.
- High cost of farm inputs which greatly reduces the farmer’s proﬁt margins.
- Poor management of sugar factories and mismanagement of co-operatives. This leads to delayed and low payments to the farmers which lower their morale.
- Delays in the harvesting of sugar-cane clue to poor harvesting programmes by the factories disrupt the farmer’s planning.
- Disease e.g. ratoon stunting, mosaic, yellow wilt, leaf spot, smut etc. lowers the farmers’ yield and income.
- Overproduction: In sugar growing areas, the peasant farmers have planted only sugar-cane which at times exceeds the capacity of the local factories.
- Labour shortage during harvesting.
- Poor feeder roads lead to the delivery of the harvested crop to the factory.
- Climatic hazards e.g. prolonged drought.
Significance of Sugarcane Farming in Kenya
Sugarcane growing in Kenya has resulted in the following benefits:
- It has created employment opportunities for many Kenyans. People have been employed in the sugar estates and factories.
- The establishment of sugar mills in the growing areas has contributed to industrial developments.
- It has provided raw materials for other industrial Plants e.g., those manufacturing industrial spirits.
- It has contributed to the growth of towns in the growing areas e.g. Muhoroni, Awendo, and Mumias.
- It has produced sugar for domestic use hence saving the foreign exchange that could be used for its importation.
- Farmers earn income through the sale of cane thus raising their standards of living.
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 the 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.
Frequently Asked Question (FAQs) About Sugarcane Farming in Kenya
How much does it cost for sugarcane farming per acre in Kenya?
The least investment spending for for suagrcane farming is 100,000 Kenya shillings which translates to the input cost of one acre per harvest cycle of sugar cane which is 1 and half years.
Which month is the best for planting sugarcane in kenya?
Sugarcane planting in kenya starts from the first week of September and continuous to mid-October in the in some parts of the countyr whilein some areas planting is done in October and November.
How valuable is Sugarcane in kenya?
Sugarcane growing in Kenya has of great impact as detailed below
- It creates employment in sugarcane farms and factories
- It stimulates industrialization since it is a source of raw materials to sugar factories
- Its by-product molasses can be used to make alcohol and animal feeds.
- Gasohol which can fuel vehicles is a by-product of sugar factories
How to revive the Kenyan sugar sector?
The Kenyan sugar sector has been riddled by mismanagement, cheap sugar imports, high operational costs and poor cane quality. Reviving the sugar sector, it is important to recognize that agriculture is and will continue to play a key role in realizing the twin objectives of poverty reduction and shared prosperity as enshrined in our Constitution.