Sugarcane is a coarse perennial grass belonging to the Saccharum family.
It was introduced in Kenya in 1902 by an Australian farmer whereby commercial growing began in Miwani, Kibos, and Ramisi.
Main Growing Areas
Nyanza: Muhoroni, Miwani, Chemilil and Awendo.
Western: Mumias, Nzoia, Kabras, Nambele
Conditions Favouring Sugarcane growing (requirements)
- High temperatures(21◦c-27◦C)
- High and well-distributed rainfall (1200-1500 mm annually).
- Dry and sunny weather during harvesting to increase sugar accumulation in the cane.
- Fertile and well-drained soils.
- Undulating land for machinery to be used and for easier transportation of cane to factories.
- Altitude between sea level and 1600 m.
- Abundant labour for planting, weeding, cutting, and loading onto trucks.
- Good transport infrastructure for sugarcane to reach the factory within a week after harvesting.
- Location of processing factories within the growing areas for quick processing of sugarcane before losing its sugar content through drying.
- Availability of capital to pay workers in the field, buy farm machinery, etc.
Cultivation of Sugarcane
- Shallow furrows are made across the field at intervals of 1.2m-1.8m apart.
- Pieces of older sugarcane are laid horizontally in the furrows.
- They are covered lightly with the soil which they grow a cluster of shoots called stool.
- Nitrogenous fertilizer is applied when plants are growing at a high rate.
- Weeding is done when the crop is fairly short.
- After about 14 months the cane is ready for harvesting.
- After harvesting two ratoons the stools are dug out, land tilled and new setts are planted.
Harvesting of Sugarcane
- The cane may be set on fire to rid it of husks, trash, and harmful insects and animals.
- it is then cut using pangas within 48 hours if burnt to avoid conversion of tea sugar.
- The husks and the top green part are removed if it wasn‟t burned.
- The cane is then loaded onto trucks using machines called mechanical grabs.
- Then it‟s transported to the factory to be processed within 48 hours.
- Processing of Sugarcane
- At the factory the cane is put in large water tanks where it is washed.
- It‟s passed through a machine which cuts it up into short pieces.
- The pieces are passed between rollers to crush and squeeze out the juice.
- Fine matter in suspension and soluble non-sugars are precipitated leaving the juice.
- The juice is boiled with lime until it turns into thick syrup.
- The syrup is passed through crystallizers where sugar crystals grow.
- Its then led into centrifuges to separate crystals from molasses resulting into a raw coarse brown sugar.
- The brown sugar is decolourised with carbon black.
- Repeated crystallization is done to obtain various grades and sizes.
- The sugar is then dried and screened.
- Its then packed in bags for storage and sale.
Uses of Sugar
- In baking to sweeten bread, cakes, etc.
- Sweetening foods and drinks e.g. porridge, chapati, tea, coffee, etc.
- Making local brews e.g. Karubu, nguru, etc.
- In soft drinks industries e.g. soda, juice, etc.
- Making sweets and chocolates, etc.
- Manufacture of drugs e.g. syrups and sugar-coated tablets.
Uses of By-products
- Molasses is used as a sweetener for livestock feeds.
- Its also used to manufacture ethanol, acetone and ethyl-acetate.
- Bagasse or fibre left after squeezing the juice is used as fuel for boilers, for preparing pulp for making paper used for making cement and fertilizer bags and as fodder or manure.
- Filter cake resulting from the filtration process is used as manure for the cane.
Marketing of Sugar
- Consumed locally.
- Factories sell to wholesalers and retail outlets to consumers.
Significance of Sugarcane growing
- Creation of employment e.g. in estates, factories, sugar mills.
- Promotes development of industries such as processing sugar cane, industrial spirit and breweries manufacturing, etc.
- Has led to the growth of towns in growing areas e.g. Muhoroni, Awendo and Mumias.
- Saves some foreign exchange that would be used in sugar importation.
- Farmers earn income through cane sale raising their standards of living.
- Provision of social amenities to workers such as schools, houses and health centres to take care of workers welfare e.g. Mumias.
Problems Facing Sugarcane Farming In Kenya
- Pests e.g. termites that attack setts lowering the farmer’s yield.
- Diseases e.g. sugarcane mosaic which cause the crop to become stunted with leaves becoming yellow.
- Mismanagement of some sugar factories resulting in their closure and subsequent loss of income and jobs.
- The inability of some factories to cope with the supply of cane from out-growers due to low production capacity and outdated technology.
- The local sugar industry faces competition from cheap imported sugar from COMESA countries.
- Strikes by cane farmers and transporters due to inadequate pay resulting in drop in output.