Challenges Facing Kenya's Sugar Industry

The sweetness of sugar has turned bitter for Kenyans as the country faces a sugar crisis. Prices of the essential commodity have reached record highs, causing financial strain for consumers. In a double blow, the government's introduction of excise duty on sugar imports and the temporary suspension of local milling are expected to further increase prices. This article delves into the factors contributing to the sugar crisis in Kenya, including the shutdown of sugar companies, the challenges faced by the industry, and the implications for consumers.


The Rising Price of Sugar

Kenya's love affair with sugar is evident in its consumption rates, with each Kenyan consuming an average of 400 grams of sugar per week. This is significantly higher than neighbouring Tanzania, where the average consumption is approximately 230 grams. However, despite the high demand, Kenya experiences occasional sugar shortages, leading to skyrocketing prices. Currently, sugar prices range between Sh225 and Sh250 per kilogram, with a two-kilogram packet costing between Sh460 and Sh490.

The impact of rising sugar prices extends beyond the cost of buying sugar itself. Sugar is a key ingredient in various products, including beverages, baked goods, and pharmaceuticals. As a result, consumers not only face increased expenses when purchasing sugar but also encounter higher prices for other goods that rely on sugar in their production or preparation.

Shutdown of Sugar Companies

The sugar crisis in Kenya has been exacerbated by the shutdown of sugar companies in Western and Nyanza regions. The Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) recently declared a four-month suspension of sugar milling due to an acute cane shortage. The suspension aims to allow sugarcane to mature, enabling millers to resume normal operations. Milling operations in these regions had already experienced a decline in sugar production, with utilization reaching less than 25 percent of installed capacity.

The shortage of sugarcane can be attributed to several factors. One of the main issues is the lack of investment in cane development by millers, leading to uncontrolled cane harvesting outside designated catchment zones. Additionally, the presence of unregulated cane collection centres and farmers' limited access to adequate financing affects proper cane husbandry. These challenges have contributed to the decline in sugar production and the need for imports to bridge the deficit.


Impact of Importation and Duty-Free Policies

To address the sugar deficit, the Kenyan government has allowed duty-free imports of sugar from outside the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region. However, these imports have not been able to stabilize prices due to the continued reduction in local sugar production. Currently, Kenya produces approximately 500,000 metric tons of sugar, while consumption stands at 800,000 metric tons per year.

The duty-free imports have failed to meet the growing demand, resulting in high prices for consumers. Furthermore, the weakening Kenyan shilling has further increased the cost of importing sugar. The sharp depreciation of the shilling against the US dollar has made importing a tonne of sugar 19.7 percent more expensive compared to the previous year. These factors contribute to the persistently high prices of sugar in Kenya.


Structural Challenges in the Sugar Sector

The sugar crisis in Kenya highlights various structural challenges within the sugar sector. One significant issue is the low productivity of Kenyan sugar fields. On average, Kenya produces 60 tons of sugar cane per hectare, significantly lower than Zambia and Malawi, which achieve 113 tons and 105 tons per hectare, respectively. The reliance on rain for irrigation, the longer time required for cane maturation in colder climates, and the shrinking plot sizes all contribute to the lower productivity levels in Kenya.


The Way Forward: Mitigating the Challenges the UjuziKilimo Way

To address the challenges facing Kenya's sugar industry, concerted efforts are needed from various stakeholders. The government has taken steps to alleviate the crisis by allowing duty-free imports of sugar from outside the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region. However, this temporary solution is not sufficient to meet the growing demand for sugar in the country.

Innovative agricultural technology can play a crucial role in mitigating the challenges faced by the sugar industry. One such technology is the cutting-edge soil monitoring system developed by UjuziKilimo called SoilPal. SoilPal provides real-time data on soil conditions, enabling farmers to optimize their farming practices and increase productivity. By using this technology, sugarcane farmers can ensure optimal soil health, leading to higher yields and improved quality.

Furthermore, UjuziKilimo FarmSuite platform can help streamline and optimize the entire sugarcane farming process. FarmSuite provides farmers with valuable insights, such as weather forecasts, crop management recommendations, and market trends. By leveraging these tools, farmers can make informed decisions, reduce costs, and enhance their overall farming practices.

By adopting cutting-edge agricultural technologies like SoilPal and FarmSuite, sugarcane farmers in Kenya can improve their productivity, reduce production costs, and enhance the sustainability of their operations. These technologies empower farmers with the knowledge and tools they need to overcome the challenges posed by the sugar crisis and ensure the long-term viability of the industry.



The sugar crisis in Kenya, characterized by rising prices, sugar company shutdowns, and challenges in the sector, has created significant hardships for consumers. The shutdown of sugar companies due to cane shortages, coupled with high import costs and a weakening currency, has contributed to the soaring prices of sugar in the country. To address these challenges, innovative agricultural technologies like SoilPal and FarmSuite can play a vital role in improving productivity, reducing costs, and ensuring the sustainability of sugarcane farming. By embracing these cutting-edge solutions, Kenya's sugar industry can navigate the current crisis and pave the way for a sweet future.

Farmers Voices