Sugarcane Farming In Kenya; Ultimate Way To Make Money
Sugarcane farming is considered relatively simple. However, the crop has a long growth cycle and needs heat and sufficient moisture during this time. Thus, farmers should, ahead of time, select a field with the best microclimate to grow sugar cane efficiently. It is also necessary to monitor crops’ condition and adjust cultivation procedures to obtain a high yield. In Kenya sugarcane is grown both under natural conditions and irrigation.
Sugarcane was introduced in the East African region by the Europeans. Sugarcane is a crop which is grown both on large-scale and small-scale. The small scale farmers are known as outgrowers.
Conditions favoring the growth of sugarcane
- High temperatures of between 20⁰C – 28⁰C.
- Heavy rainfall of between 1,200 mm – 2,000 mm.
- Deep well drained soils. Gently sloping land.
- A warm dry period before harvesting is ideal.
- Altitude which ranges from sea level to 1,800 m.
- Hot and wet climate is most favourable.
Sugarcane growing areas in Kenya
Here are some of the main sugarcane growing areas in Kenya:
- Western Kenya:
- Nandi County: Nandi County is known for its extensive sugarcane cultivation, particularly in areas such as Kibos, Chemelil, and Muhoroni.
- Kakamega County: Kakamega County, specifically Mumias and Butali, has a long history of sugarcane farming and is home to Mumias Sugar Company, one of Kenya’s largest sugar factories.
- Bungoma County: Bungoma County, particularly the areas of Nzoia and Webuye, has a significant sugarcane farming presence.
- Rift Valley:
- Kericho County: Kericho County is renowned for its large-scale sugarcane plantations, with companies like Sony Sugar and Chemelil Sugar having operations in the region.
- Nzoia Sugar Belt: Located in Bungoma and Trans Nzoia counties, the Nzoia Sugar Belt is a prominent sugarcane growing area known for its fertile soils and favorable climate for cane production.
- Coast Region:
- Kwale County: Kwale County, specifically Ramisi and Kinango, has a notable sugarcane farming industry.
- Kilifi County: Parts of Kilifi County, such as Malindi and Ganze, have sugarcane farms contributing to the local agricultural economy.
- Nyanza Region:
- Kisumu County: Kisumu County, particularly the Kibos area, has a substantial sugarcane farming presence, with Kibos Sugar & Allied Industries being a key player in the region.
- Homa Bay County: Homa Bay County, specifically the Awendo area, is known for its sugarcane plantations, with Sony Sugar Company being a major player in the region.
- Central Kenya:
- Thika and Murang’a: Thika and Murang’a counties in Central Kenya have pockets of sugarcane farming, with small-scale farmers cultivating the crop for local consumption and processing.
- Eastern Kenya:
- Busia County: Located in Eastern Kenya, Busia County has a growing sugarcane industry. The county is home to Busia Sugar Industries, a major player in the region.
- Kitui County: Sugarcane farming is also practiced in certain parts of Kitui County, contributing to the local agricultural economy.
- Narok County: Narok County, specifically the Trans-Mara region, has suitable climatic conditions for sugarcane farming. Farmers in this area grow sugarcane for local consumption and supply to neighboring regions.
- Tana River County:
- Tana River County in the Coast Region has potential for sugarcane farming due to the availability of water from the Tana River. However, it is important to note that the development of the sugarcane industry in this region is still in progress.
- Emerging Areas: Sugarcane farming is not limited to the traditional sugarcane growing regions. There are efforts to promote and expand sugarcane cultivation in other areas of Kenya. This includes initiatives such as the Galana-Kulalu Irrigation Project in Tana River and Kilifi counties, aimed at boosting sugarcane production.
It’s worth mentioning that the sugarcane industry in Kenya has faced challenges in recent years, including issues related to pricing, market access, and outdated infrastructure. However, the government and industry stakeholders continue to work towards addressing these challenges and revitalizing the sector.
It’s always advisable to consult agronomists, agricultural extension officers, or sugar industry bodies for more specific and up-to-date information on sugarcane growing areas in Kenya. They can provide insights into the current status, opportunities, and potential risks associated with sugarcane farming in different regions.
Sugarcane Varieties Grown In Kenya
Here are some popular sugarcane varieties grown in Kenya, along with their characteristics and important considerations:
- CO 419:
- Characteristics: High sugar content, good ratooning ability, tall and vigorous growth, moderately resistant to diseases like smut and leaf scald, moderately resistant to lodging.
- Important Information: CO 419 is suitable for both plant and ratoon crops. It requires well-drained soils and proper irrigation for optimal growth. Harvest maturity ranges from 12 to 14 months.
- CB 47-355:
- Characteristics: Early maturing variety, good sugar recovery, medium height with thick stalks, good tillering ability, resistant to diseases like leaf scald and red rot.
- Important Information: CB 47-355 is suitable for both plant and ratoon crops. It performs well in various soil types but requires good drainage. Harvest maturity ranges from 10 to 12 months.
- Characteristics: High sugar content, good plant vigor and tillering, tolerant to waterlogging, medium height with thick stalks, resistant to diseases like red rot and smut.
- Important Information: N14 is suitable for both plant and ratoon crops. It thrives in well-drained, fertile soils. Harvest maturity ranges from 12 to 14 months.
- CO 6806:
- Characteristics: High sugar content, good tillering ability, tolerant to drought conditions, resistant to diseases like smut, leaf scald, and mosaic virus.
- Important Information: CO 6806 is suitable for both plant and ratoon crops. It is adaptable to a wide range of soil types but prefers well-drained soils. Harvest maturity ranges from 12 to 14 months.
- CO 7804:
- Characteristics: High sugar content, good tillering ability, resistant to diseases like smut, leaf scald, and mosaic virus.
- Important Information: CO 7804 is suitable for both plant and ratoon crops. It adapts well to various soil types but prefers well-drained soils. Harvest maturity ranges from 12 to 14 months.
- CO 62175:
- Characteristics: High sugar content, good ratooning ability, tolerant to waterlogging, resistant to diseases like smut and mosaic virus.
- Important Information: CO 62175 is suitable for both plant and ratoon crops. It performs well in fertile soils with good drainage. Harvest maturity ranges from 12 to 14 months.
- CO 86032:
- Characteristics: High sugar content, good tillering ability, resistant to diseases like smut, leaf scald, and mosaic virus.
- Important Information: CO 86032 is suitable for both plant and ratoon crops. It prefers fertile, well-drained soils. Harvest maturity ranges from 12 to 14 months.
- NCo 310:
- Characteristics: High sugar content, good tillering ability, resistant to diseases like smut and mosaic virus.
- Important Information: NCo 310 is suitable for both plant and ratoon crops. It thrives in fertile soils with good drainage. Harvest maturity ranges from 12 to 14 months.
When selecting a sugarcane variety, it’s crucial to consider factors such as disease resistance, adaptability to local conditions, market demand, and yield potential. Local agricultural experts, extension services, and sugarcane industry bodies can provide specific recommendations based on your farming location and goals.
Conditions That Favour Sugarcane Farming In Kenya
Sugarcane thrives in tropical and subtropical climates, making Kenya’s warm and humid climate suitable for its cultivation. The optimal temperature range for sugarcane growth is between 20°C and 35°C. Regions with consistent rainfall throughout the year or well-distributed rainfall patterns, such as the western parts of Kenya, provide favorable conditions for sugarcane farming. However, irrigation systems can also be implemented in areas with lower rainfall or pronounced dry seasons to support sugarcane growth.
Sugarcane performs best in fertile, well-drained soils with good moisture-holding capacity. Sandy loam, clay loam, and loamy soils are considered ideal for sugarcane cultivation. These soil types provide good root penetration, moisture retention, and nutrient availability. The presence of organic matter in the soil, such as compost or well-rotted manure, can further enhance soil fertility and structure, supporting healthy sugarcane growth.
A slightly acidic to neutral pH range of 5.5 to 7.5 is preferred on sugarcane farming. Soil pH outside this range can affect nutrient uptake and overall crop health. If the pH is too low (acidic), lime can be applied to raise the pH. Conversely, if the pH is too high (alkaline), elemental sulfur or acidic amendments can be added to lower the pH.
Adequate water availability is crucial for sugarcane farming, especially during the growing season. Regions with access to reliable water sources, such as rivers, dams, or underground water reserves, are advantageous for sugarcane cultivation. However, as mentioned earlier, irrigation systems can be implemented in areas with limited water availability to ensure consistent moisture supply to the crop.
Sugarcane farming can be carried out in various topographical settings that include flatlands, gently sloping areas, and even terraced land. Flat or gently sloping lands are preferred for mechanized farming practices and ease of water management. However, proper soil conservation measures, such as contour plowing or terracing, can be implemented in areas with steeper slopes to prevent erosion and ensure soil fertility.
Temperature And Sunlight
Temperature and sunlight are crucial factors that influence the growth and development of sugarcane. Here’s more information on their importance in sugarcane farming:
- Optimal Temperature Range: Sugarcane thrives in warm temperatures. The optimal temperature range for sugarcane growth is between 20°C (68°F) and 35°C (95°F). Within this range, sugarcane exhibits the highest rates of photosynthesis, growth, and sugar accumulation.
- Cold Sensitivity: Sugarcane is sensitive to cold temperatures, especially frost. Freezing temperatures can damage the crop, leading to reduced yields or even crop loss. Therefore, sugarcane farming is typically suited to regions with a favorable, frost-free climate.
- Heat Stress: While sugarcane prefers warm temperatures, extreme heat can also pose challenges. High temperatures combined with drought conditions can lead to heat stress, affecting plant growth and reducing yields. Adequate irrigation and appropriate management practices help mitigate heat stress and maintain optimal plant health.
- Sunlight is essential for sugarcane as it drives the process of photosynthesis, which converts sunlight into energy for plant growth and sugar production.
- Sugarcane requires a significant amount of sunlight to maximize its yield potential. It typically thrives in areas with full sun exposure, receiving 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Shading caused by trees, buildings, or other structures can hinder sugarcane growth and reduce productivity. Therefore, it is important to ensure that sugarcane fields have access to ample sunlight throughout the day.
- Sunlight also affects the formation of sucrose in sugarcane. Adequate sunlight promotes the accumulation of sugars in the stalks, leading to higher sugar content and quality.
Proper temperature and sunlight management are crucial for optimizing sugarcane yield and sugar content. While temperature is largely determined by the climate of a specific region, farmers can employ certain techniques to optimize sunlight exposure:
- Field Orientation: Planting sugarcane rows in a north-south direction allows for better sunlight penetration and distribution across the crop canopy.
- Pruning and Thinning: Regularly pruning and thinning the sugarcane canopy can help ensure sufficient sunlight reaches the lower parts of the plant, promoting uniform growth and sugar accumulation.
- Weed Control: Effective weed control is important as weeds can compete with sugarcane for sunlight. Keeping the field weed-free allows maximum sunlight penetration for the sugarcane crop.
Propagating Sugar Cane
Propagating sugarcane can be done through two main methods: using seeds and using stem cuttings. Here’s more information on propagating sugarcane through these two approaches:
Propagation from Seeds:
- Seeds are not commonly used for sugarcane propagation as sugarcane is primarily propagated through vegetative means (stem cuttings). However, if you have access to sugarcane seeds, you can try this method.
- Collect mature sugarcane seeds from the flowering stalks. These seeds are tiny and may resemble black dots.
- Prepare a seedbed or trays filled with a well-draining seed-starting mix or fertile soil.
- Sow the sugarcane seeds evenly on the seedbed or in the trays, covering them lightly with a thin layer of soil.
- Water the seeds gently, keeping the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.
- Place the seedbed or trays in a warm and sunny location with temperatures around 25-30°C (77-86°F).
- Germination may take around 2 to 4 weeks. Once the seedlings reach a height of 10-15 cm (4-6 inches), they can be transplanted into the main field or containers.
Propagation from Stem Cuttings:
- Stem cuttings are the most common and reliable method for propagating sugarcane.
- Select healthy and disease-free mature sugarcane stalks for cutting. Ideally, choose stalks that are 2-3 years old.
- Cut the stalks into sections, each containing 2-3 nodes. Nodes are the swollen areas along the stalk where buds emerge.
- Prepare the planting area by tilling the soil and ensuring it is well-drained and fertile.
- Plant the sugarcane cuttings in furrows or holes, burying them horizontally with one or two nodes exposed above the soil surface.
- Space the cuttings around 30-45 cm (12-18 inches) apart in rows, with row spacing of 90-120 cm (36-48 inches).
- Water the cuttings thoroughly after planting and maintain consistent soil moisture throughout the growing period.
- Sugarcane cuttings should root and start developing new shoots within a few weeks. As the shoots grow, continue to provide sufficient irrigation and manage weed growth around the plants.
Although growing sugar cane from seed is possible, there are better options for commercial cultivation. You’ll need to follow the instructions on the seed package to have sprouts ready to plant in 2-3 weeks.
It’s important to note that propagating sugarcane from stem cuttings is the preferred and more reliable method due to the genetic uniformity it maintains. Seed propagation can result in variation in traits and quality. Therefore, for commercial sugarcane production, stem cuttings are widely used.
By following these propagation methods, you can successfully propagate sugarcane either from seeds or stem cuttings, allowing you to expand your sugarcane farm or start a new one.
How To Plant Sugar Cane
ugar cane planting differs from techniques used for other crops. The general planting scheme entails cutting the stem into pieces, land preparation for planting sugar cane, placing the cuttings in the prepared furrows or beds, and covering them with soil.
In many parts of Kenya, the long rainy season occurs between March and May, while the short rainy season falls between October and December. These periods are generally considered favorable for sugarcane planting.
Sugar cane planting techniques are classified as flat, furrow, or trench. There is no best way to plant sugar cane; each method is appropriate for specific conditions.
It is a traditional method that includes the following stages:
- opening shallow furrows 8-10 centimeters deep at a distance of 75-90 centimeters;
- planting one-eyed (rarely two-eyed) cuttings in these furrows, with at least one piece every 30 centimeters;
- filling the furrows with 5-7 centimeters of the soil and leveling the field by tillage.
Planting sugar cane with the flat method should only be used when the field has enough moisture. This method is no longer widely used because only 40-50% of cuttings fully grow with it. Even so, in most parts of northern India, the crop is still planted this way.
This method is commonly used to grow sugar cane in areas with moderate rainfall but poor drainage. The main steps of furrow planting include:
- making furrows 10 to 20 centimeters deep, depending on the type of soil in the region;
- planting setts in an end-to-end system;
- covering setts with 5-6 centimeters of ground, leaving the upper portion of furrows unfilled;
- incorporating setts into the furrows.
The trench method of sugar cane planting is one of the most efficient modern plantation methods. It uses fewer two-eyed cuttings per acre and nearly 80% of cuttings sprout and grow mature. Also, the trench method works well to keep plants from lodging in regions with strong winds and where the crop grows very tall.
The major phases of trench planting are as follows:
- digging trenches 20-25 centimeters deep, using a ridger or by hand, every 75-90 centimeters;
- spreading the NPK fertilizer evenly in the trenches and thoroughly mixing it into the soil;
- planting setts from end to end;
- spraying pest control solution on planted setts;
- filling trenches with loose soil.
Weeds attack sugar cane right after it has been planted in the ground and can suffocate young shoots before they even have a chance to grow. Therefore, integrated weed management is critical during the early stages of the plant development. Fortunately for farmers, crops, as they grow tall, can defend themselves against weeds by blocking their access to sunlight. However, while the plants grow, it is necessary to monitor the condition of the fields and eradicate weeds as soon as possible.
Fertiliser and Spray Program On Sugarcane Farming
Developing a spray and fertilizer program for sugarcane requires considering the specific needs of the crop, the soil conditions, and local pest and disease pressures.
- Conduct a soil analysis to determine the nutrient levels and pH of the soil. This helps identify any nutrient deficiencies or imbalances that need to be addressed through fertilization.
- Soil analysis can be done by collecting soil samples from different parts of the field and sending them to a reputable soil testing laboratory. The results will provide recommendations for fertilization based on the specific nutrient requirements of sugarcane.
Here’s an example of a spray and fertilizer program for sugarcane using a table format:
|Growth Stage||Time||Spray/Fertilizer||Application Rate|
|Germination||1-2 weeks after||Pre-emergent herbicide||As per manufacturer’s|
|Tillering||4-6 weeks after||Nitrogen (N) fertilizer||50-70 kg/ha|
|Herbicide for weed control||As per manufacturer’s|
|Grand Growth||3-4 months after||Nitrogen (N) fertilizer||100-150 kg/ha|
|Phosphorus (P) and Potassium||50-70 kg/ha each|
|Pesticides for pest and disease||As per manufacturer’s|
|Maturation||10-12 months||Nitrogen (N) fertilizer||100-150 kg/ha|
|Phosphorus (P) and Potassium||50-70 kg/ha each|
|Pesticides for pest and disease||As per manufacturer’s|
Please note that the rates mentioned in the table are for illustrative purposes and may vary based on specific soil conditions, local recommendations, and cultivar requirements. It is essential to consult with local agricultural agronomists or extension services for precise recommendations tailored to your region and sugarcane variety.
Additionally, it’s crucial to adhere to all safety precautions and follow local regulations when handling and applying fertilizers and pesticides. Always read and follow the instructions provided by the manufacturers of the products you use.
This table provides a basic framework for a spray and fertilizer program, but it’s important to adapt it to your specific farming practices and local conditions. Regular monitoring and adjustments should be made based on the crop’s response and any pest or disease pressures encountered.
Pest And Disease Management
Sugar cane comes in various types, each with its own pests. The most harmful for growing crops are the following pests:
- Sugar cane grubs damage the roots of Saccharum spp. crop. Although they are not afraid of chemicals, they can be eradicated by flooding or disking the field.
- Sugar cane borers infect Diatraea saccharalis. This pest bores tunnels in stems and feeds on sugar cane pulp. It’s the most dangerous pest, causing a 45% decrease in sugar levels in damaged plants compared to healthy ones. You can successfully control the spread of borers with insecticides.
- Wireworms feed on plants’ roots and buds. Insecticides based on phorate can destroy these pests.
Sugar cane diseases are caused by fungi, bacteria, or viruses and vary depending on geography of growing. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to prevent the spread of diseases or pest damage. Farmers must, therefore, constantly monitor the condition of their sugar cane plantation. EOSDA Crop Monitoring offers a variety of vegetation indices to help control field conditions and respond quickly to any deviations.
When sugar cane is actively growing, it can spread in various directions. In this case, it is preferable to prune a plant, removing excessively branched side shoots and wilted leaves. The crop can technically be pruned at any time. Nevertheless, the later you prune, the more time sugar has to develop in the cane. Cut stems can be reused to grow new plants or mulch the plantation.
How Long Does Sugar Cane Take To Grow?
Sugarcane is a perennial crop that takes a significant amount of time to reach maturity and be ready for harvest. The time it takes for sugarcane to grow and mature depends on several factors, including climate, variety, soil conditions, and management practices.
On average, sugarcane takes approximately 12 to 18 months to reach maturity from the time of planting. However, it’s important to note that there are variations in the growth duration based on specific factors.
Here are some key stages in the growth cycle of sugarcane:
- Germination: After planting, sugarcane typically takes around 2 to 3 weeks for germination. During this time, shoots emerge from the buds on the planted cane setts or cuttings.
- Tillering: The next stage is tillering, which occurs approximately 4 to 6 weeks after germination. During this phase, the plant develops multiple shoots or tillers from the base of the main stalk. Tillering contributes to the overall density and yield potential of the crop.
- Grand Growth: The grand growth stage begins around 3 to 4 months after planting. This period is characterized by vigorous growth, as the plant develops its canopy and continues to produce more tillers. Sugarcane plants reach their maximum height and thickness during this stage.
- Maturation: Maturation is the final stage of sugarcane growth, and it typically occurs between 10 to 18 months after planting, depending on the variety and growing conditions. At this stage, the sugar content within the stalks reaches its peak, making it suitable for harvest.
It’s worth mentioning that sugarcane is often harvested multiple times during its lifespan. After the initial harvest, known as the “plant crop,” ratooning is commonly practiced. Ratooning involves cutting the cane stalks close to the ground, allowing them to regrow from the remaining buds. Ratoons generally have a shorter growth cycle than the plant crop, taking around 8 to 12 months to reach maturity.
FAQs On Sugarcane Farming In Kenya
1. What is sugarcane farming?
Sugarcane farming is the process of growing sugarcane, a type of grass that is used to make sugar. Sugarcane is a perennial crop, meaning that it can be harvested for several years.
2. What are the benefits of sugarcane farming?
Sugarcane farming has a number of benefits, including:
- It is a relatively low-cost crop to grow.
- It is a high-yielding crop, meaning that it produces a lot of sugar per unit area.
- It is a relatively drought-tolerant crop.
- It can be grown in a variety of soil types.
3. What are the challenges of sugarcane farming?
Sugarcane farming also has a number of challenges, including:
- It is a labor-intensive crop.
- It is susceptible to a number of pests and diseases.
- It requires a lot of water.
- It can be a fire hazard.
4. What are the different types of sugarcane?
There are a number of different types of sugarcane, but the most common type grown in Kenya is the Cachaça variety. Cachaça sugarcane is a tall, robust variety that is known for its high sugar content.
5. When is the best time to plant sugarcane in Kenya?
The best time to plant sugarcane in Kenya is during the rainy season, which is from March to April or August to September.
6. How much land do I need to grow sugarcane?
The amount of land you need to grow sugarcane will depend on the size of your operation. However, you will need at least a few acres of land to grow a profitable crop.
7. What type of soil do I need for sugarcane farming?
Sugarcane can be grown in a variety of soil types, but it prefers well-drained, loamy soil.
8. How much water does sugarcane need?
Sugarcane is a relatively drought-tolerant crop, but it does need a regular supply of water. You will need to irrigate your crop during the dry season.
9. How much fertilizer do I need to use for sugarcane farming?
The amount of fertilizer you need to use will depend on the soil type and the fertility of your land. However, you will need to fertilize your crop regularly to ensure a good yield.
10. How do I control pests and diseases in sugarcane?
Sugarcane is susceptible to a number of pests and diseases, so it is important to monitor your crop regularly. There are a number of chemical and biological controls that can be used to control pests and diseases.
11. How do I harvest sugarcane?
Sugarcane is harvested by cutting the stalks of the plant. The stalks are then transported to a sugar mill, where they are processed to extract the sugar.
12. How much money can I make from sugarcane farming?
The amount of money you can make from sugarcane farming will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your operation, the yield of your crop, and the price of sugar. However, sugarcane can be a profitable crop if it is managed properly.
13. What are the government policies on sugarcane farming in Kenya?
The Kenyan government has a number of policies that support sugarcane farming. These policies include:
- Subsidies for sugarcane farmers.
- Tax breaks for sugarcane farmers.
- Research and development into sugarcane farming.
14. What are the challenges facing sugarcane farming in Kenya?
The sugarcane industry in Kenya faces a number of challenges, including:
- Low prices for sugar.
- High production costs.
- Climate change.
- Pests and diseases.
15. What are the opportunities for sugarcane farming in Kenya?
The sugarcane industry in Kenya has a number of opportunities, including:
- The growing demand for sugar in Kenya.
- The potential for export markets.
- The development of new sugarcane varieties.
16. How can I get started in sugarcane farming in Kenya?
There are a number of ways to get started in sugarcane farming in Kenya. You can:
- Contact a sugarcane farmer or organization for advice.
- Attend a sugarcane farming training course.
- Apply for a government subsidy or loan.
17. What are the resources available for sugarcane farmers in Kenya?
There are a number of resources available for sugarcane farmers in Kenya, including:
- The Kenya Sugar Board.
- The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service.
- The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.
18. What are the risks involved in sugarcane farming?
There are a number of risks involved in sugarcane farming, including:
- The price of sugar may fall, making it difficult to make a profit.
- The crop may be damaged by pests or diseases.
- The crop may be damaged by weather events.
19. How can I reduce the risks involved in sugarcane farming?
There are a number of ways to reduce the risks involved in sugarcane farming, including:
- Diversify your crop portfolio.
- Plant resistant varieties of sugarcane.
- Manage pests and diseases effectively.
- Insure your crop against weather events.
20. What are the future prospects for sugarcane farming in Kenya?
The future prospects for sugarcane farming in Kenya are positive. The demand for sugar is growing, and there is potential for export markets. However, the industry will need to address the challenges of low prices, high production costs, and climate change in order to remain profitable.