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Sugarcane Farming in Kenya


Sugarcane Farming in KenyaIndian settlers in the early 1900s introduced sugarcane farming in Kenya because they wanted it to manufacture jaggery. Jaggery is an unrefined sugar product commonly used by Indians and Africans. It was used as a sweetener and is regarded as a healthier replacement for processed sugar. The Indian settlers planted the plant in an area known as Kibos.

After its introduction, the Ministry of Agriculture conducted large-scale field experiments in Miwani and Kibos. Later on, Miwani sugar Mills were commissioned in 1922. After independence, the government preferred to control the sugar industry and thus established several factories. The factories established include:

  • Chemelil {1968}
  • Mumias {1973}
  • South Nyanza {1979}
  • Muhoroni {1966}
  • Nzoia {1978}Kibos (2007}
  • Transmara {2011}
  • Sukari {2012}

The Sugar Research Institute under Karlo is responsible for researching and promoting the sugar industry, and it was formed in 2014. The Sugar Research Institute is mandated to research and provide information on Innovations and technologies that can help in sugar production. The Institute has four primary objectives:

  1. To identify and distribute technological innovations that help grow the sugar industry
  2. To provide information about the sugar industry
  3. To promote appropriate sugar processing technologies and services 
  4. To create policies that enhance the growth of the industry

Sugarcane Farming in Kenya

The main sugarcane-growing areas in Kenya are Nyando and South Nyanza. The Nyando zone includes Kibos, Soin, Muhoroni, and Chemelil. The South Nyanza region includes areas of Sukari, Transmara, and Sonysugar. Sugarcane is also grown in the Western region, in areas of Butali, Nzoia, and Mumias.

Even though the industry is over a century old, sugarcane farmers still plant old varieties such as the Co 421, Co 617, and N14 varieties. More than 89% of all sugarcane grown in the country comes from these old varieties. The problem with these varieties is that they:

  • Mature late
  • Are susceptible to diseases such as ratoon stunting, mosaic, and smut
  • Have low yields when compared to newer varieties

Sugarcane Varieties in Kenya

Sugar cane farmers must use improved varieties to make their sugarcane farm venture more profitable. You should use pests and disease-resistant varieties to increase yields. Some of the sugarcane varieties in Kenya that farmers can consider are:

KEN 83-737 Variety

KEN 83 was introduced in the year 2002. It is a Kenyan-developed variety resistant to diseases such as the sugarcane mosaic virus and smart. It is expected to yield 114 tonnes per hectare and is characterized by a pale greenish to light pink stalk. KEN 

83 – 737 matures in 16 -18 months. This sugarcane variety is best for growing in South Nyanza, Western, and Nyando.

KEN 82 -219 Variety

The sugarcane variety was created by Karlo and released in the year 2002. It has medium thick greenish-yellow stalks, 14% fiber, and 10% sucrose. It has intermediate resistance to the smut and mosaic virus. This var is ready for harvesting in 17 -19 months, yielding 113 tonnes/ha.

KEN 82 -219 is suitable for growing in South Nyanza, Nyando, and Western regions.

KEN 82-121

This sugarcane variety is only suitable for planting in the Nyando region. It was introduced in the year 2011, and it has 14% fiber content. The sucrose content to cane ratio is 15.9%. KEN 82-121 is characterized by its erect medium-stalks and clinging trash. It gets its parentage from the CO 421 x Phil 54-60 variety and has a yield of 85 – 125 tonnes/ha. This variety matures in 15 -17 months.

KEN 82 – 216 

Karlo introduced this variety in the year 2002, and it has 15% fiber content and 12.7% sucrose content. It is characterized by its medium-thick stalks that are purple and pinkish. KEN 82-216 has 15% fiber and 12.7% sucrose content. The variety has a yield potential of 124 tonnes per hectare and matures in 15 to 19 months.

 It is suitable for planting in South Nyanza, Western, and Nyando. 

D 8484

The D 8484 Sugarcane variety gets its origin from Guyana. However, it was introduced in the country in the year 2007. Its fiber-to-cane ratio is 15%, and sucrose to cane ratio is 14%. The average yield is 126 tonnes/ha, and the crop resists diseases such as the mosaic virus & Pookah boeng.

Other varieties sugarcane farmers can consider include the KEN 82-62, EAK 73 -335, and the KEN 82 -493. 

Sugarcane Growing Conditions

When it comes to sugarcane farming, there are three significant things that every farmer should consider. The first is the variety being planted, the second is the fertilizer being used, and the third is the expert advice.

Do you know that there is a sugarcane fertiliser that will increase your yield by more than 30%? Safi Organics fertilizer increases profits by providing essential micronutrients required by sugarcane crops. The fertilizer also helps conserve water, thus reducing the evaporation rate. This makes it ideal to use Safi Organics when planting in water-stressed regions.

Ecological Requirements for Sugarcane Farming

Sugarcane requires rainfall that ranges between 1200mm -1500mm. Farmers should also plant the plant in well-drained loam or sandy soils. However, clay soil is ideal, with an optimal pH level of 6.5.

Land Preparation and Planting 

Sugarcane propagation is done using bud chips or cane sets. Buds should be raised in a nursery with a spacing of between 15cm by 10cm before transplanting. The land should be plowed using a disc plow because it breaks down the soil into a fine tilth.  

Sugarcane farmers should prepare the land during the dry period to avoid the formation of hard pans. The hard pans affect root penetration and drainage, ultimately reducing yields. We advise that secondary cultivation is done to refine the soil further and remove trash and debris. For this kind of operation, use a chisel or subsoiler. 

You should adjust the equipment to Plough at 50 – 75 cm depth. After the second plowing, level the farm and create furrows that are 25cm deep.

Sugarcane Soil Sampling

As always, sugarcane farmers should ensure that they have a soil test done before planting. Soil test services in Kenya are provided by reputable soil testing companies such as Safi Organics and Karlo. Soil Testing Services will let you know the fertilizer and pesticides to apply on the farm. When taking a soil sample, you must follow certain precautions. These are:

  • Only take small quantities of soil because only 10 g is used for chemical analysis
  • Do not use soil samples from unusual areas such as old channels, marshy areas, and areas near trees
  • Use a screw auger when collecting samples from hard soil
  • Use a spade when collecting samples from moist soil
  • Do not collect samples in areas where previous fertilizer had been banned and placed
  • Soil samples should be securely stored and protected from contamination
  • you should put soil samples in a clean bag that is free of organic matter and debris

Instructions for taking a soil sample

The first thing you need to do when taking a soil sample has a map of the area to be covered. The site must include different sampling unit boundaries. After you have the place to be sampled, designate the other regions using letters based on various geographical features. 

For example, if it is a valley, the area can be named as letter A, you can mark slopes with the letter B, and hilltops as letter C. For every composite sample required, take samples from 10 to 20 spots for each designated area. Make a V-shaped cut using a spade and remove a 1 -2 cm slice of soil. Remove the sample and put it in a clean bucket. 

Repeat the above procedure for all spots marked on your survey map. Pour the soil in the bucket onto a piece of plain paper or cloth and mix it thoroughly. After that, pour the soil and divide it into quarters until you have about 0.5 kg. Put this 0.5 kg into a paper bag and send the earth for analysis. 

Modern Ways to Plant Sugarcane 

There are several methods of planting sugarcane. However, for commercial sugarcane farming, the furrow method is best. In this method, ridges are created 120 cm apart and flooded with water; then planting is done. Other common ways that sugarcane is planted are:

Ridge and groove method

The ridge and groove method is best in regions with moderate rainfall. In this method, the grooves are made 80 -100cm apart using a ‘V’ shape. The tracks are usually 20 – 25 cm deep. 

Seedling Transplant from Polythene Bags

This method raises the seedlings in a 10 x15 cm perforated plastic bag. The bag should be filled with sand, earth, and mud mixed in a ratio of 1: 1: 1. This method has a success rate of 95 -99%. When transplanting to the farm, add fertilizers such as phosphate and nitrogen.

Sugarcane Harvesting and Ratoon Management

After planting sugarcane, harvesting should be made after 15 -19 months and 14 -16 months for ratoons in regions such as Western Kenya. In the coastal areas of Kenya, sugarcane should be harvested after 10 – 14 months for plant crops and 9 – 11 months for ratoon crops. 

When harvesting sugarcane, ensure harvesting is done when it is still green. After harvesting, it should be milled within 48 hours. However, milling should be done immediately in an emergency, such as when there is burnt sugarcane. Sugarcane farmers should adhere to the following harvesting tips:

  • Avoid harvesting sugarcane during the wet season to reduce soil compaction and maintain quality
  • Harvesting should be done at the ground level to ensure good ratoonability

Ratoon Management

Ratooning is the process of harvesting two crops from the original stubble. For example, when you cut a sugarcane stem, and another crop grows from the same stubble, that is considered ratooning. Ratooning is advantageous when compared to directly sowing crops from the ground. Some of the advantages of ratooning are:

  • The sugarcane farmer does not incur cultivation costs
  • The sugarcane matures earlier
  • Less labor is required when compared to directly sowing the crop

The main disadvantage of ratooning is that the soil nutrients get depleted because there is not enough time to replenish the nutrients in the soil. In addition, ratooned sugarcane crops might produce thinner canes with low sugar content, reducing their marketability. In addition, it has been observed that there is an increased risk of pests and diseases affecting the farm.

When should ratoon sugarcane be plowed?

To avoid the problems above, plow the ratoon if they are poorly managed, and the yields are no longer economical. 

Sugarcane Farming Profit Per Acre

The sugarcane farming profit per acre will depend on several factors, such as the variety planted and the prevailing market prices. The market prices range from 3,400 – 4,500 per tonne. If you get 100 tonnes per ha and sell it at optimal prices of Shs 4,000, your revenue will be 400,000 per ha. If you sell it at 3,500, then the income will be 350,000.

You need to deduct your actual costs from the revenue to get the sugarcane farming profit per acre. The average sugarcane production costs are as follows:

  • Land preparation: KES 30,000 – KES 40,000 per acre
  • Planting materials: KES 8,000 – KES 12,000 per acre
  • Fertilizers and pesticides: KES 20,000 – KES 30,000 per acre
  • Labor costs: KES 40,000 – KES 60,000 per acre (for planting, weeding, and harvesting)
  • Irrigation: KES 10,000 – KES 20,000 per acre (if needed)
  • Other costs (transportation, equipment maintenance, etc.): KES 10,000 – KES 20,000 per acre

Therefore, if the cost of production is Kshs 210,000 – 280,000, the sugarcane profit per acre is between 70,000 – 120,000 per acre. 


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