The sugar directorate has stopped factories from processing sugar in western Kenya as the regulator moves to avert losses to both farmers and millers occasioned by the crushing of immature cane.

According to the regulator, factories have been harvesting immature cane, a move that eventually subjects farmers to losses as premature sugarcane weighs less when compared with mature one.

The move to mill immature cane has also seen factories count losses as they have to mill more cane than usual to extract sugar.

The regulator says millers have been processing cane with sucrose levels of eight percent, which is way below the optimum of 13.5 percent, hence forcing factories to use more of the raw material to achieve one tonne of made sugar.

Ideally, factories are supposed to use 10 tonnes of cane to make a tonne of sugar, however, milling of immature cane has seen processors use as high as 15 tonnes to achieve the target.

“Factories are milling young immature cane with a low pol% cane of eight compared to the industry standard of 13.5,” said the directorate.

The regulator last month banned the milling of cane for at least four months to allow the crop in the field to mature before production resumes.

Of the eight factories in western Kenya, only Sukari and Transmara Sugar Factories, which have sufficient cane within their catchment area will be allowed to mill, and so is the coastal-based Kwale Sugar Company Limited.

As a result, the country will continue depending on expensive imports in order to meet the daily sugar requirements.

The move to stop milling comes at a time when India, one of the top producers of sugar in the world has imposed restrictions on exports in order to protect its local stocks amid a global shortage that has elevated the cost of the commodity.

The director-general of Agriculture and Food Authority Willice Audi said restrictions by India means Kenya has to buy sugar from countries like Dubai, which procure raw commodity from Brazil for value addition, hence landing in Kenya at a higher price.

“This will have a cost element as opposed to sourcing it directly as a finished product from a country like India which we have been relying on for imports,” said Mr Audi.

The Kenyan government opened a duty-free import window in December that would see traders ship in 100,000 tonnes of sugar outside of the Comesa region to curb the projected shortage in the country that has now pushed up the cost of the sweetener to Ksh420 for a 2-kilogramme packet.

Former chairperson of the Kenya Sugar Board Saulo Busolo said Kenya should embrace good practices that countries such as Mauritius, India and Brazil, which normally take a break of six months to allow cane to mature.

“Because of greed, in Kenya we mill sugar all year round. We should be taking a break for some months to allow the crop to mature, this will ensure we do not subject farmers to losses by milling immature cane,” said Mr Busolo.