Sugarcane Farming in Kenya: A Brief Overview

The cultivation of sugarcane in Kenya dates back to approximately 1902 when the first sugarcane crops were planted in Kibos. These crops were primarily grown for the production of jaggery, a type of sugar.

Major Production Areas

The sugarcane industry in Kenya is concentrated in various regions, including:

  1. Nyanza Sugar Belt

  • Kibos
  • Miwani
  • Chemilil
  • Muhoroni
  • Songhor
  • Koru

2. South Nyanza

  • Awendo

3. Western

  • Mumias
  • Bungoma
  • Kabras

4. Coast

  • Ramisi
  • Gazi
  • Shimba Hills

Small Scale Farming and Support

A significant portion of sugarcane cultivation in Kenya is carried out by small-scale farmers. These farmers receive substantial assistance from the sugarcane processing factories, including ploughing, cane cutting, and transportation support.

Challenges in Sugarcane Farming

1. Pests:
– Sugarcane farming in Kenya faces the challenge of pests, including the notorious sugarcane yellow aphids. These pests not only attack sugarcane but also cause damage to sorghum crops if not controlled effectively.

2. Accidental Fires:
– Farmers often have to deal with accidental fires that can destroy their sugarcane fields, leading to significant losses.

3. Market Flooding:
– The influx of cheap imported sugars into the market poses a challenge to local sugarcane farmers, as it can flood the market and affect prices and demand.

4. Factory Closures:
– Some sugarcane processing factories and companies have closed down, causing disruptions in the industry and affecting farmers’ livelihoods.

5. Delayed Payments:
– Farmers often experience delays in receiving payments for their sugarcane, creating financial difficulties and affecting their ability to invest in future cultivation.

Sugarcane Yellow Aphids: A Major Threat

Description

The sugarcane yellow aphids (scientifically known as Sipha flava) are small pests that pose a severe threat to farmers in sugarcane-growing areas. They are usually lemon yellow but can appear pale green under certain circumstances. These aphids measure about 2mm in length and have short black spines covering their bodies. Their backs display two double rows of dark spots. Interestingly, both winged and wingless aphids can exist in the same colony.

Hosts and Reproduction

These aphids primarily infest grasses in the wild. Female aphids can reproduce without mating and give birth to living offspring for approximately 28 days, producing an average of 2 nymphs each day. These nymphs reach maturity within 13 to 19 days.

Symptoms and Damage

The sugarcane yellow aphids feed on the underside of leaves, causing the release of toxins that lead to plant chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves). The feeding typically begins with the lower leaves and progresses upward. Seedlings that are attacked may display purple chlorosis, while mature leaves may exhibit yellow chlorosis when heavily infested. Discoloration symptoms become noticeable only when the crop has already suffered significant damage. In severe cases, the infestation can lead to stunted growth and delayed maturity.

Scouting and Control Measures

Scouting

Farmers should regularly inspect their sugarcane fields, especially during the early stages of crop emergence. The abundance of sugarcane yellow aphids is often linked to the presence of grasses surrounding the crop. Therefore, it is crucial to monitor the population of aphids and take appropriate action.

Chemical Control

To effectively manage the sugarcane yellow aphids and their alternate hosts (grass weeds), farmers can employ chemical control measures. Prior to the sugarcane being attacked during its early growth stages, herbicides can be applied during land preparation to clear the weeds. Recommended herbicides for this purpose include Catapult 480 SL and Wembe 200 SL.

When the sugarcane reaches a certain height, another herbicide called Hurricane 20% SL can be applied between the rows to control annual grasses and broad-leaved weeds.

For controlling sugarcane yellow aphids, the recommended insecticides are Lexus 247 SC and Kingcode Elite 50EC. These should be sprayed early in the morning for optimal effectiveness. Additionally, the use of a spreader called Integra can improve the coverage, adhesion, and penetration of chemicals.

Conclusion

Sugarcane farming in Kenya has a long history, with various regions serving as major production areas. However, farmers face several challenges, including pests, accidental fires, market fluctuations, factory closures, and delayed payments. The sugarcane yellow aphids, in particular, pose a significant threat to the industry. Regular scouting and effective chemical control measures can help farmers mitigate the damage caused by these pests and ensure a successful sugarcane harvest.

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