Written by John Kabaka
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Nzoia Sugar factory and its cane nucleus. Photo | John Kabaka
The collapse of most cane growers’ firms during the past decade coupled by absence of strong cane development structures in the sugar companies continue to impede the adoption of new production technologies, growth and expansion of evolved cane varieties.
Records indicative of the percentage crop cover in the cane fields according to cane varieties as drawn from Kenya Sugar Board (KSB) by the end of last year show that cane farmers are still hesitant to adopt the new cane varieties on their farms.
Though this was partly blamed on the inefficiency of some of the factories- albeit staggering the cane harvesting period without notice, which meant more loses to farmers, inefficiency at both the out growers’ firms and departments in agriculture at the sugar firms has lately impeded the campaign to propagate the new varieties.
According to KSB sugarcane census, Mumias Sugar Company (MSC), which boast and elaborate cane development and harvesting program compared to the rest of the milling firms, had less that 15 percent of the total 51,000 hectares committed to cane production in the Mumias sugar belt covered by the new varieties.
The sugarcane census reveal that age-old varieties; Nigeria, reputed with high fibre content and longer maturation periods of up to 24-months at 80 percent cover still dominate the cane fields in Kakamega and Busia counties.
The D8484 variety, reputed to mature as early as at 15 months, can yield between 108-145 tons per hectare and can be produced virtually in most climatic condition across Nyanza and western province occupies only 9 percent of the largest sugar belt in the country-mumias Sugar belt.
Other varieties including the Ken82-472, EAK 75-335, Ken 82-62, Ken 82-808, Ken 82-247, ken 82-401, ken 83-737 and ken 82-216 occupy insignificant land cover of between 0.1-2 percent; never mind their high yield potential, high sucrose content and fast maturity.
Butali Sugar company in Kakamega County. Photo | Florence Wafula
Of the current 170,000 hectares of land under sugarcane production in the country, Kakamega and Busia counties account for about 53 percent, with Mumias sugar belt stretching between Kakamega and Busia counties eating up a total of 51,000 hectares while west Kenya sugar belt covers 40,000 acres.
KSB says Busia County has the potential to sustain a new factory with a crushing capacity of above 1,500 TCD if hundreds of unexploited acres of swampy fields along the Sio-river are exploited and harnessed into irrigated cane fields so as to supplement the rain-fed cane production in parts of Butula, Nambale and Teso districts.
The Kenya sugar research Foundation (Kesref) admits that in spite of the gains made in cane research and engineering of early maturing and high yielding varieties during the past decade production per unit acreage of land had remained almost the same.
“There is need to set up production zones within the nucleus farms for the sole purpose of propagating the new varieties to meet supply whenever demand arises,” Kesref director Chrispin Omondi said recently in Kakamega during an agricultural field day.
He said adoption of new cane varieties was the remaining option for the country to bridge the 200,000 tons deficit in it annual consumption demand for sugar currently standing at 700,000 tons.
Omondi says expansion of the crushing capacities and efficiency of the sugar factories in the country was not matched with an aggressive cane development program targeting early maturing cane varieties hence the periodic shortages for mature cane.
The KSB regional manager for Western Kenya Laban Mulei blames management of sugar firms and the out grower institutions for the low adoption levels for new crop varieties. He concurs with Kesref sticking with the low-yield crop variety will hardly sustain the factory supply demand.
He says lack of a strong cane development policies at MSC was chiefly responsible for the supply deficits being reported noting the collapse of Mumias outgrowers company (Moco), which provided an inter-phase between the miller and farmers has exposed MSC weakness in dealing with agriculture issues.
“We have lately seen the West Kenya Sugar Company (Wekscol) and Butali Sugar Mills (BSM) engage in a scramble for raw material. We have also seen the expansion of area under cane to include the predominantly maize zones of Lugari and Nandi districts instead of a campaign to propagate the new cane varieties,” He argues.
Omondi says that the country had the potential to be self-sufficient in sugar production but warns that the industry could also collapse if appropriate plans are not laid in place to mitigate against the expected lapse of the two-year extension period for the COMESA safeguard.
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