Low yield

The average cost of producing a tonne of sugar in Kenya is $870. This is almost twice as high as in other countries, such as Malawi’s $350, Zambia, Swaziland and Egypt $400 and Sudan’s $450.

There are several factors which contribute to the high cost of production in Kenya.

Low yield is one contributor. Kenya has a yield of 55.1 t/ha which is low compared to other sugar producing economies, such as Mauritius, that has a yield of 74.3t/ha, and Egypt, which has a yield of 95.1 t/ha.

Reasons for the low yields in Kenya include the poor cane varieties. Old varieties, namely Co 945 (42.7%), Co 421 (20.4%), Co 617 (13.4%) and N14 (12.7%), are still dominant with improved varieties accounting for only 6 per cent of the area. The old varieties are characterized with late maturity, low sucrose content and susceptibility to the major diseases such as smut, mosaic and ratoon stunting.

Yet, 13 varieties have been developed by the Kenya Sugar Research Foundation (KESREF) and released for commercial production. Key attributes of these varieties include early maturity, resistance to smut, high sugar and cane yields. The varieties include KEN 82 – 216, KEN 82 – 219, KEN 82 – 247, KEN 82 – 401, KEN 82 – 808, KEN 83 – 737, KEN 82 –62, KEN 82 – 472, EAK 73 – 335, D8484, KEN 82-121, KEN 82-493 and KEN 82-601.

Poor farm management and scarce extension services are also contributing to falling yields. Primary data analysis by KESREF indicated that current sugarcane management practices in Kenyan production included conventional tillage (54% of respondents), minimal soil tests prior to planting (25%), use of poor quality seedcane (over 80%), manual weed control (over 60%), lack of seedcane of new varieties (57%), and lack of awareness (31%).

Kenyan sugar growing is also vulnerable to fluctuating weather conditions. Sugarcane production requires at least 1500mm of rain per year. However, changing weather patterns has resulted to low and erratic rainfall below these required level thus contributing to low sugarcane yield.