Sugarcane (Saccharum spp. Hybrid) is a tall perennial grass of family poaceae (Clark et al…1995). It is native to warm temperate to tropical regions of South and South East Asia. It’s the main sugar crop in Kenya grown for commercial extraction of sucrose.

History of sugarcane in Kenya

Sugarcane cultivation in Kenya began in the early 19th century by the Indian settlers in Kibos. 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.

After independence, the Government explicitly expanded its vision of the role and importance of the sugar industry as set out in Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 which sought, inter alia, to:

  1. Accelerate socio-economic development;
  2. Redress regional economic imbalances;
  3. Promote indigenous entrepreneurship; and
  4. Promote foreign investment through joint ventures.

Recognizing the importance of the sector, the Government and the private sector have been involved in the promotion of the industry through direct investments mainly on factories for processing cane and other related infrastructure:

State-owned -Muhoroni (1966), Chemelil (1968), Mumias (1973), Nzoia (1978), South Nyanza (1979),

Privately owned -West Kenya Sugar Company Ltd (1981), Soin Sugar Company Ltd (2006), Kibos Sugar and Allied Industries Ltd (2008), Butali Sugar Mills Ltd (2011), Transmara Sugar Company Ltd (2011), Sukari Industries Ltd (2012), Kwale International Sugar Company Ltd (2014), West Kenya Sugar Company Ltd –Olepito Unit (2017) and Busia Sugar Industry Ltd (2018).

There are several built-up jaggery mills and numerous mobile jaggery units.

The establishment of the factories aimed at: -

  1. Achieving self-sufficiency in sugar with a surplus for export in a globally competitive market;
  2. Generating gainful employment and create wealth;
  3. Supplying raw material for sugar related industries; and
  4. Promoting economic development in the rural economy and beyond through activities linked to the sugar industry.

Following this investment in capacity expansion, Kenya attained self-sufficiency in sugar production in 1980 and 1981 by producing 401,239 MT against a demand of 299,514 MT in 1980 and 368,970 MT against a demand of 324,054 MT in 1981.

The successful implementation of the expansion program in the earlier years was attributed to:

  1. The regulatory and manpower development systems that were put in place by the Government;
  2. Engagement of a Technical Management Agency;
  3. Facilitation of frequent training of human resource by the then Kenya Sugar Authority and overseas exposures for technical personnel in countries such as Mauritius;
  4. A competent human resource base with the requisite expertise;
  5. Selection of high yielding cane varieties and adequate seed quantity. There was synchronized planning between mills requirement and cane supply; and
  6. Adequate acreage under cane to service the mills.

Currently, there are 15 sugar factories in the country with a combined capacity to process 44,450 Tons of Cane per Day (TCD). Despite these investments, self-sufficiency in sugar has remained elusive over the years as consumption continues to outstrip supply. The deficit is met through importation mainly from the COMESA states.