Kenya locks out sugar millers from duty-free imports window to cushion cane farmers

KENYA – Kenyan local sugar millers have protested their lockout from the multi-billion-shilling duty-free sugar imports window, terming the move as discriminatory.

Kenya relies on imported sugar to meet its annual deficit which has now grown to one million against the production of 800,000 tonnes annually.

However, the tightening supplies have seen the price of the commodity shoot from a low of KES 230 (US$1.85) for a two-kilogram pack in January last year to KES 320 currently attributed to high prices both on the local and imported sweetener.

To curb the imminent shortage that has pushed up the cost of the sweetener, the government opened an import window in December that would see traders ship in 100,000 tonnes of sugar from outside the COMESA region.

We want millers to focus on local production

However, Willis Audi, the head of the sugar directorate has said that the government only gives the permit to traders leaving millers to concentrate on local production.

“We have received many applications from millers who want to import sugar but we have made a deliberate decision to stop them because they will focus more on repackaging and selling what they have imported other than milling cane from the local farmers,” said Willis Audi, head of the directorate.

In response to millers’ grumble, Mr. Audi has said that the move to lock millers from the import window is based on the 2017 occurrence where millers abandoned local processing after they were allowed to import milled sugar.

According to Audi, the 2017 scenario led to huge losses among local farmers as ready sugarcane ready for harvesting was left on farms for long as millers concentrated on repackaging and selling imported sugar, which the regulator says is way cheaper when compared with milling.

“In 2017, the repercussions of having allowed millers to import sugar were heavy on farmers and we don’t want to repeat that,” he said.

Looking at it as a lucrative venture, traders have flooded the permit request but Mr. Audi has declared that the directorate is limiting the quantity that each trader can import to at least 1,000 tonnes.

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