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Kenya sugar farming takes sour turn

Thursday, March 26, 2015 - 01:43

There's growing calls to overhaul Kenya's struggling sugar industry - as it suffers further blows from falling prices and escalating competition. As Katie Gregory reports, it seems a government scheme designed to protect the industry by limiting imports - could infact be having the opposite effect.

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It might not look like it but there's a storm brewing over sugar farming in Kenya. The livelihoods of 4 million Kenyans depend on this industry... and it's struggling. The failure to modernise and move to irrigated farms, means production costs are higher. A tonne of sugar costs about 600 dollars to produce in Kenya, that's double some of their African competitors (SOUNDBITE) (English) ELIKIA, SUGARCANE FARMER SAYING: "The proceeds started coming down you know as farmers we're paid per tonnage so even the tonnage went down, the price per ton also went down and the returns I was getting as a farmer really went down." Kenya only produces three-quarters of the country's needs - the rest is imported. Government trade restrictions were meant to protect the industry from cheap imports but instead they're encouraging mismanagement and smuggling. They're also deterring investment in the industry - as current producers like Mohamed Mukhwana struggle to keep up with demand. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ENGINEER MOHAMED MUKHWANA, SUGARCANE FARMER SAYING: "Maybe the government should go out and privatise the industry to ensure that the production of the cane is cheaper, come up with new varieties which are already there. Amalgamate small plots so that we can farm on big scale." Like oil... world benchmark sugar prices have soured over the past four years because of excess supply. But many farmers believe a shift to irrigated plantations and new factories could brings costs down to below 400 dollars a tonne and possibly save a key industry in East Africa's largest economy.

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Kenya sugar farming takes sour turn

Thursday, March 26, 2015 - 01:43