KENYA – Sugar miller Sony is establishing an irrigated sugar cane field as it seeks to expand its source of raw material.

Sony has leased 500 hectares for the exercise in the Lower Kuja and targets an additional revenue of more than Sh20 million in the next two years from the scheme managed by the National Irrigation Board (NIB).

Managing director Jane Odhiambo said the miller is seeking to have enough raw materials throughout the year. “We want to enhance the availability of raw material for our operations and irrigated cane farming is just one of the ways that will make us to achieve this,” said Ms Odhiambo.

Last week, Sony signed a Sh500 million loan with Co-operative Bank where the Treasury acted as a guarantor, implying that the taxpayer will shoulder the burden in the event the firm fails to repay.

Sony will become the first sugar miller to go into irrigation in a country where rain-fed farming is the popular practice. This comes at a time when a recent research has asked the regulator to embrace irrigation to address cane shortage.

Kenana Engineering & Technical Services report says the Kenya Sugar Board (KSB) should consider promoting irrigated cane farming in the Tana River basin, Ewaso River North basin, Athi River basin, Western (Lake Victoria Basin) and the Rift Valley.

The 11 licensed millers are currently operating below their capacity, leading to the cycle of shortage. They have been warned to brace for a potential cane shortage in this financial year as production is expected to drop.

KSB, in its 2012/2013 and 2014/2015 sector outlook report, says cane census conducted between January and March showed that cane yields have dropped by 2.5 per cent despite enhanced cane development programmes by millers.

The board links the decline to delayed payment of farmers as well as poor returns that has forced some farmers to drop the crop.

About 154,300 hectares have been put under cane production in Kenya, accounting for 500,000 tonnes of sugar annually against a demand of 800,000 tonnes. The balance is imported from the Comesa.

September 3, 2014;