Illegal sugar imports from neighbouring countries like Uganda are said to have flooded Western Kenya, even as the government authorities concentrate on fighting Covid-19.
The illicit trade is said to have been orchestrated by unscrupulous businessmen and some authorities, and started even before opening of the customs window.
“It is unfortunate that those importing sugar want to kill the local industries. At this rate, we will not have money to our pay farmers,” says Nzoia Sugar Company chairman Joash Wamang’oli as quoted by the Standard.
The government released the custom import licenses for importation Friday last week, April 17, but the business could have been on for more than a month.
Most of the businessmen and authorities are working with the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA), which is mandated to ensure that the country imports sugar which is commensurate with the deficit to ascertain adequate stocks in the market.
As a result of the illegal importation, sugar millers and sugarcane farmers in the region are having hard time competing with the imports, which are cheaper than sugar manufactured in the country.
“We are calling upon AFA to urgently move in to protect our farmers,” said Wamang’oli, adding that the imports have flooded areas such as Bungoma, Mukenya, Masbrago, New Adatia, Kiminini, Kitale, Charangani and Jaralam.
Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati, who is a member of the Sugar taskforce asked Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya to intervene and save the farmers, as well as the local sugar industry which has been adversely affected by cheap imports.
The same sentiments were echoed by Chairman of Kenya National Alliance of Sugarcane Farmers Saulo Busolo, who warns that the local sugar industry could die soon if nothing is done.
In 2018, it was reported that more than 76,000 farmers had abandoned sugarcane farming in Mumias driven by failure of Mumias Sugar factory to pay the farmers Ksh600 million
According to the Kenya National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers, only 20,000 farmers were left cane farming.
Most sugar millers have been having difficult financial times as a result of illegal imports into the country that come cheaply, as compared to sugar milled in the country.
In September 2019, the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) placed Mumias Sugar Company under receivership.
KCB appointed Ponangipalli Venkata Ramana Rao of Tact Consultancy Services as the loss-making sugar company’s receiver-manager.
KCB is one of the many creditors owed billions by Mumias.