Kenya’s sugar sector faces an uncertain future as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) safeguards, providing protection against inexpensive imports for over a decade, are set to expire.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi informed MPs recently that Comesa has communicated its decision not to grant further safeguards once the current one concludes.

In the previous year, Nairobi secured a two-year extension to address pending reforms before market liberalisation takes place.

Mr Linturi stressed ongoing efforts to meet the deadline, stating, “We are implementing reforms to comply with the timeline; Comesa has notified us that additional safeguards will not be issued after the current ones expire in the next two years.”

Initially granted in 2002, Kenya has repeatedly sought extensions, surpassing the maximum allowable duration for these protective measures.

Comesa, under the safeguard regime, mandated Kenya to develop a rapidly maturing cane, transition from a weight-based payment method to sucrose content, and rectify the high production costs incurred by the sector.

Furthermore, Comesa urged the Kenyan government to privatise all state-owned sugar firms, facilitating the infusion of fresh capital and enhancing their competitiveness.

Despite a decade passing since these directives were issued, many of the stipulated reforms remain unmet. Notably, the country’s production costs persist at a significantly elevated level, with a tonne reaching up to $1,000, compared to Mauritius, where the same quantity is produced for $400.

Attempts to privatise state-owned factories have encountered obstacles, primarily due to protracted court cases hindering the process.

Under the Comesa safeguards, Kenya is allowed to import at least 350,000 tonnes of sugar from the member states.