KENYA – Kenya’s sugar imports have fallen 54% to 49,445 tonnes in the in the first quarter of the year after the period announced by the government for duty-free sugar imports elapsed.

In March alone, volumes went down to 9,907 tonnes from 33,623 tonnes and while table sugar imports totalled 1,815 tonnes, refined white sugar was 15,740 tonnes in imports.

During the month, the directorate said it had cut the volume of imports to an average of 7,000 tonnes a month from highs of 29,000 tonnes in ordinary circumstances.

“We are still regulating the imports coming in the country to ensure that the volumes that we license in a month are manageable so that we do not affect the local millers,” said Mr Solomon Odera, head of the directorate.

Duty-free sugar imports were approved by the government to supplement local production said be insufficient to meet its wide application as sweeteners for human consumption and raw materials in the food value chain.

The dilemma in the food industry saw the parliament approve the privatization of five state owned sugar companies in 2015 while farmers criticized free-duty imports that saw fall in sugar prices.

Based on a report by the Sugar Directorate, sugar imports for the first three months of 2017 stood at 107,622 tonnes, shareholders alarming on excess supply as a result of smuggling of sugar across the borders.

While Kenya is allowed to import 350,000 tonnes of sugar annually from COMESA, the country imported over 950,000 tonnes of sugar between May and December in 2017 after it allowed imports of sugar from countries outside COMESA, reports Business Daily.

Kenya consumes about 800,000 tonnes of sugar a year, while production is about 600,000 tonnes.

Producing a tonne of sugar in Kenya is said to costlier, almost double than in other COMESA countries and to protect Kenyan producers from low priced sugar, the country agreed a deal with COMESA in 2003 to cap duty-free imports at around 200, 000 tonnes.