The owner of Juanco Group Ltd plans to put up a Sh200 million sugar beet factory in Njabini, Nyandarua County, at a time the local sugar industry is fighting for survival.
Jungae Wainaina, in a consortium with local investors, is setting up the sugar beet extraction plant with a capacity to crush 500 metric tonnes of beet daily, equivalent to 150 metric tonnes of sugar.
Sugar beet root contains a high concentration of sucrose and is grown for commercial sugar production.
It matures in six months, nearly a third of the best maturity period for sugarcane in the western Kenya.
Mr Wainaina is the proprietor of Juanco Group Ltd with interests in agricultural, industrial and consumer markets and plans the venture within a year.
“The plant would be built in a modular basis with 500 metric tonnes per day for up to 6 modules. This will be under 5,000 acres per module for single cropping or 2,500 acres for two crops annually” Mr Wainaina said in an interview.
The project is expected to directly create 2,000 jobs at peak performance and 90,000 at farm level, with an additional target of 5,000 at service level.
The equipment is at the high seas after regulatory approvals were obtained for their importation.
Kenya produces about 600,000 tonnes of sugar a year, compared with annual consumption of 800,000 tonnes. The deficit is covered by strictly controlled imports.
Mr Wainaina said farmers in the greater Nyandarua have been yearning for a perennial cash crop to boost their earnings.
He noted that the only cash crop widely cultivated in the county is pyrethrum.
“The farmer is in need of a cash crop and the beet will provide them with that,” he said.
He cited several advantages of sugar beet, which traditionally grows well in temperate climate unlike sugarcane which grows in the tropics.
Russia is the largest producer of sugar beets followed by France and the US.
Other products from sugar beet are crystal sugar, sugar syrup, molasses and pulp.
The co-products are sources of ethanol and biogas respectively, which are forms of renewable energy.
“Livestock feed which dairy farmers are badly in need of in the country is a crucial by-product of pulp,” he said
The milk market in Nyandarua has been fraught with difficulties with prices falling to unsustainable levels, which has led to a major drop in production and consequent drop in earnings.
Mr Wainaina said soil analysis conducted on fields had proved that the area is conducive for growing sugar beet, adding that Nyandarua has the requisite rainfall levels for development of the sugar beet industry.