Sugarcane farming is a crucial sector of Kenya’s economy, contributing significantly to the country’s GDP and providing employment opportunities for many Kenyans. The sector faces several challenges, including low productivity, outdated farming practices, and inadequate infrastructure. Despite these challenges, there are several opportunities for growth and development in the sugarcane farming sector in Kenya.
One of the significant opportunities for sugarcane farming in Kenya is value addition. The country has the potential to create more value from sugarcane by processing it into various products such as ethanol, sugar, and animal feed. Diversification is another opportunity for the sector, with farmers exploring other crops such as maize, beans, and vegetables to supplement their income and reduce overreliance on sugarcane farming.
Technology adoption and irrigation are other opportunities that can enhance productivity and efficiency in the sugarcane farming sector in Kenya. Adopting modern farming practices such as precision agriculture, mechanization, and the use of drones can help farmers increase yields and reduce production costs. Additionally, irrigation can help farmers mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure consistent yields throughout the year.
History of Sugarcane Farming in Kenya
Sugarcane farming in Kenya has a rich history that dates back to the 1920s when it was first introduced in the country. The first sugarcane plantation was established in 1922 at the Kibos Sugar Estate in Kisumu. The sugarcane was initially milled by jaggery plants. The establishment of two factories, Miwani in Kisumu County in 1922 and Ramisi in Kwale County 1927, marked the beginning of large-scale commercial sugarcane production in the country for extraction of sucrose as the major product. The by-product includes molasses, bagasse and filter cake.
Before independence, the sugar industry in Kenya was dominated by private entrepreneurs. Large-scale production and processing started with the establishment of Miwani Sugar Company in 1922, and expanded with the addition of Ramisi Sugar Company in 1927. The sugar industry was initially established to cater to the domestic market, but it has grown over the years to become a significant export crop, earning the country foreign exchange.
Over the years, the sugarcane farming sector in Kenya has grown significantly, with several sugar factories being established across the country. In the 1960s, new government policies encouraged the expansion of commercial sugar production with new factories being set up in various parts of the country. Today, sugarcane farming is one of the most important agricultural activities in Kenya, providing employment to thousands of people and contributing significantly to the country’s economy.
Also Read: Sugarcane Farming in Kenya
Current State of Kenya’s Sugarcane Farming Sector
The sugarcane farming sector in Kenya is a vital part of the country’s economy, contributing significantly to the country’s GDP and providing employment to a large number of people. According to Statista, the production of sugarcane in Kenya increased to roughly 7.1 million metric tons in 2021, up from 6.8 million metric tons in the previous year. This was the highest amount in the last five years.
Despite this increase in production, the sugar industry in Kenya is facing several challenges. The industry is characterized by low productivity, high production costs, and low profitability. The cost of production is high due to the high cost of inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and labor. Additionally, the industry is plagued by poor infrastructure, inadequate research and development, and outdated technology.
The sugar industry in Kenya is also facing stiff competition from cheap imports, especially from neighboring countries such as Uganda and Tanzania. The influx of cheap sugar imports has led to a decline in the demand for locally produced sugar, resulting in a glut in the market and low prices for farmers.
According to the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, the sugar sub-sector plays a vital role in the country’s agricultural sector and economy. The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation Agricultural Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS) 2019-2029 ranks sugar and sugarcane crop among the top six commercial crops grown in Kenya. However, the sector needs to address the challenges it is facing to realize its full potential and contribute even more to the country’s economy.
Table 1 below shows the top ten sugar mills in Kenya and their market share in terms of sugar production in 2015.
|Sugar Mill||Market Share (%)|
|Butali Sugar Mills||17.7|
|South Nyanza Sugar||4.4|
Table 1: Top Ten Sugar Mills in Kenya and their Market Share in 2015 (source: Metropoltv.co.ke)
Challenges Facing the Kenyan Sugarcane Farming Sector
The sugarcane farming sector in Kenya faces numerous challenges that hinder its growth and development. Some of the key challenges include:
- Low productivity: Sugarcane farming in Kenya is characterized by low productivity, with farmers producing low yields per hectare of land. This is partly due to the use of outdated farming practices and the lack of access to modern farming technologies.
- High production costs: The cost of producing sugarcane in Kenya is relatively high due to the high cost of farm inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and labor. This makes it difficult for farmers to make a profit from their sugarcane farming activities.
- Outdated farming practices: Many sugarcane farmers in Kenya still use traditional farming practices that are not efficient and do not maximize yields. This is partly due to the lack of access to modern farming technologies and information.
- Poor infrastructure: The poor state of infrastructure in many sugarcane farming areas in Kenya makes it difficult for farmers to transport their produce to the market. This leads to post-harvest losses and reduces farmers’ incomes.
- Low prices: Sugarcane farmers in Kenya often receive low prices for their produce due to the dominance of a few large sugar millers who have significant bargaining power. This reduces farmers’ incomes and discourages them from investing in their farms.
These challenges have contributed to the decline of the sugarcane farming sector in Kenya and have made it difficult for farmers to make a decent living from their activities. Addressing these challenges will require significant investments in modern farming technologies, infrastructure, and policies that support small-scale farmers.
Government Interventions to Revive the Sugarcane Farming Sector in Kenya
The Kenyan government has implemented several interventions to revive the sugarcane farming sector in the country. These interventions are aimed at improving the production, processing, and marketing of sugarcane in the country. Some of the interventions include:
- Privatization of State-Owned Sugar Mills: The government has privatized several state-owned sugar mills to improve their efficiency and profitability. This move is aimed at attracting private sector investment in the sugar industry and increasing competition among sugar mills.
- Subsidies: The government has provided subsidies to sugarcane farmers to enable them to access farm inputs such as fertilizers and seeds at a lower cost. This move is aimed at increasing the productivity of sugarcane farms in the country.
- Research and Development: The government has invested in research and development to improve sugarcane varieties, increase yields, and reduce production costs. This move is aimed at increasing the competitiveness of Kenyan sugarcane in the international market.
Additionally, the government has also implemented policies aimed at improving the business environment for sugarcane farmers and processors. For instance, the government has reduced taxes on imported machinery and equipment used in the sugar industry. This move is aimed at reducing the cost of production and improving the competitiveness of Kenyan sugar in the international market.
Furthermore, the government has also implemented policies aimed at improving the marketing of sugarcane in the country. For instance, the government has established the Sugar Directorate, which is responsible for regulating the sugar industry in the country. The Sugar Directorate ensures that sugar mills pay fair prices to sugarcane farmers and that the quality of sugar produced in the country meets international standards.
Opportunities for Growth in Kenya’s Sugarcane Farming Sector
Despite facing some challenges, the sugarcane farming sector in Kenya offers several opportunities for growth and expansion. Here are some of the areas with the most potential:
- Value Addition: There is a great opportunity for farmers to add value to their sugarcane crops by processing them into other products such as ethanol, molasses, and brown sugar. This can increase their income and create more job opportunities.
- Diversification: Sugarcane farmers can diversify their crops by planting other crops alongside sugarcane. This can help to reduce the risk of crop failure and increase overall productivity.
- Irrigation: The use of irrigation can help to increase yields and ensure a consistent supply of sugarcane throughout the year. This can help to meet the demand for sugarcane and reduce the need for imports.
- Technology Adoption: The adoption of new technologies such as precision farming, mechanization, and genetic engineering can help to increase yields and reduce production costs. This can make sugarcane farming more profitable and sustainable.
- Export Market: There is a growing demand for sugarcane and sugarcane products in the global market. Kenyan farmers can take advantage of this by exporting their produce to other countries.
Overall, the sugarcane farming sector in Kenya has a lot of potential for growth and expansion. With the right investments in technology, infrastructure, and policy, the sector can become more profitable and sustainable, while also contributing to the country’s economic growth.
Sugarcane farming in Kenya is an important agricultural sector that has been facing various challenges over the years. Despite the challenges, sugarcane farming remains an important source of income for many farmers in the country.
One of the main challenges facing sugarcane farming in Kenya is the high cost of production. Farmers need to carefully plan and budget for these costs to ensure profitability and sustainability in sugarcane farming. Additionally, the sugar sector has numerous challenges including; agronomic, technological, economic, management, and policy limitations.
However, there are also opportunities for expanding production in the coastal region of Kenya. Sugar, or sugarcane (Saccharum Hybrids spp.) is among the top six commercial crops grown in Kenya. The others are tea, cut flowers, vegetables, coffee, and maize. The Government of Kenya has been widely involved in the expansion of sugar production through investments in sugar cane growing schemes.
Overall, the sugarcane farming sector in Kenya has the potential to contribute significantly to the country’s economy. However, there is a need for the government and other stakeholders to address the challenges facing the sector and explore new opportunities for growth and development.
Sources: Masayi, Nelly, and Godfrey Wafula Netondo. “Effects of sugarcane farming on diversity of vegetable crops in Mumias Division, Western Kenya.” (2012). https://repository.maseno.ac.ke/handle/123456789/2134
Mulwa, Richard, Ernst-August Nuppenau, and Ali Emrouznejad. “Productivity growth in smallholder sugarcane farming in Kenya: a Malmquist TFP decomposition.” Online access to Deutscher Tropentag, Deutscher Tropentag 6 (2005). https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/document?repid=rep1&type=pdf&doi=73a6a801c4db6fc0a782a4cd49187980db0c7d1b