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The struggling sugar sector has once again found itself between a rock and a hard place, with very little solutions as socio-political and economic dynamics choke it while pushing the real issues to the sidelines.
The current ping pong between the political class will not help a sector that is now becoming synonymous with slowdown and bickering hence the need for sober resolutions that will help the millions of farmers who depend on this sweetener.
Close to a decade, the government has tried to protect the sector by limiting imports, but it seems this did not do much to turn around the fortunes of the sector as rising competition from regional players and their pricing strategies threaten the existence of local sugar farmers.


The truth is that the government will not protect local farmers forever and if safeguards are removed next year, the floodgates will be open and sugar from the sugar-producing countries in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region will flood the Kenyan market, making the situation even worse for local farmers.
The country will come under increasing pressure to open its sugar market for the commodity from more efficient producers who are eyeing Kenya’s 200,000 metric tonnes annual deficit. The country needs between 800,000 and 850,000 metric tonnes of sugar annually, but it can only produce between 600,000 and 650,000 metric tonnes a year.
It is not too late to change the sector fortunes. Instead of leaders from the sugar belt region making unfounded claims, they should start pushing for means to make the sugar sector more competitive to withstand the expected sugar deluge when the COMESA safeguards are lifted. They must conceptualise a deliberate strategy to bring and end to the madness being witnessed in the sector.
If privatization of state-owned sugar millers will make the sector more cost-effective, so be it. In any case, this is one of the conditions set by COMESA so as to accept Kenya’s request for protection measures for her sugar sector.
Privatising the sugar firms will pump into the sector a competitive spirit that will hold its own against imports from more efficient producer countries.
But first, the sector needs to tackle its high cost of production, which favours alternatively-sourced sugar. Kenya must invest in new technology and use the right fertilizer to reap maximum returns as farmers are made to adopt best practices and improved crop husbandry.
Local research institutes must give Kenyans sugarcane that grows faster and ripens earlier while obsolete technology should be declared redundant and replaced as soon as possible.
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