Transmara Sugar Company – Home Sweet Home-Grown

We learn how Transmara is working with small out-grower farmers to meet Kenya’s sugar needs.

Transmara Sugar Co. Ltd (TSCL) started in 2012 as a shareholder-owned company with a crushing capacity of 1,250 tons of sugar cane per day. In 2013, cane supply met the factory capacity and factory capacity was increased to 2,000 tons of sugarcane cane per day.

“Over the years that has grown to 4,000 tons a day,” says Frederick North-Coombes, Transmara’s CEO.

At that point, Sucriere des Mascareignes Ltd (SML), a subsidiary of Mauritian group Alteo Ltd, acquired a 51% controlling interest in TSCL.

“It’s definitely changed the way the company is run. It is run today as a corporate entity in line with Alteo’s values,” North-Coombes says.

Over this period sugar production increased from 17,000 tons in 2012 to 89,000 tons in 2016. Working to build a strong relationship with the farming community supporting farmers in developing their land. TSCL has decentralised its agricultural operation by building five agricultural regional offices, each fully staffed and equipped to supply and service farmers.

“TSCL do not own land for agricultural purposes and sources 100% of its sugarcane from out-growers, supporting the growers by supplying them with services such as land preparation, seed-cane supply, fertilisation, harvest and transport,” North-Coombes tells us. “These services are advanced to the farmers and recovered from their proceeds at the time of harvest. Today, TSCL counts 15,000 hectares of contracted land under sugarcane cultivation and 17,000 farmers approximately.”

Transmara Sugar has a strong belief in its “Local Only” procurement philosophy. Their chief brand, Mara Sugar, is only produced from sugar cane grown locally in the lush green highlands of Transmara and its surroundings. This means that Transmara Sugar is supplying a superior product while keeping in mind the ongoing growth and development of the farming community.

A Helping Hand

“The uniqueness of Transmara is its out-growers and the collaboration and support we provide to farmers,” North-Coombes says. “We also advance school fees to farmers on a quarterly basis for their kids’ schooling. TSCL invest approximately $1.2 million a year on road development and maintenance in cane growing areas, which eases transport of sugarcane as well as transportation of other farming produce and other requirements from farmers.”

As well as providing support to local communities, Transmara Sugar is also helping farmers to adopt best sugarcane farming practices by delivering a free training program to farmers. So far, all TSCL Agricultural staff and 800 farmers have benefitted from this program with the aim to increase and maintain high yields.

“If we maintain high yields for farmers, we automatically get a more sustainable system,” North-Coombes says. “Our best farming practices show significant improvement and have a strong aggregate and agronomy department working on cane variety trials to improve on our yields to the farmers.”

TSCL also have an agronomy section which carries out new sugarcane variety trials, fertilizer trials, pest and disease control management, soil health follow-ups and a hot water treatment plant for the seed cane treatment, alongside a range of other agronomy activities to provide meaningful support to farmers for the optimisation of their crop. Transmara Sugar has also invested heavily in the implementation of a new transport system to reduce damage to the field and maintain yield to the farmers.

“We get 1,800 to 2,000 millimetres of rain a year, distributed over ten months and therefore do not require irrigation,” North-Coombes explains. “TSCL has invested heavily in developing a new transport system for use in this particular environment to reduce the damage to the fields and hence maintain the yield across the different crop cycles.”

The pay-off of TSCL’s efforts can be seen in its production. In 2017 the miller crushed 424,440 tons of cane to produce 42,026 tons of sugar. 4,500 hectares of cane had been developed across 2017 and 2018, during which Transmara Sugar crushed 578,000 tons of cane and produced 55,000 tons of sugar, while the following year 74,942 tons of sugar was produced.

Today Transmara Sugar’s Mara Sugar brand is one of Kenya’s leading locally milled sugar brands, with Transmara’s sales representing a fifth of the locally produced sugar sold in the country. This market penetration has been growing steadily over the last four years.

Sharing the Knowledge

While Transmara Sugar is undeniably an iconic Kenyan success story, it has also had to overcome challenges.

“At the beginning, cane availability was a challenge, but we’ve proved now that we can develop cane and have a partnership with our farmers growing cane in a sustainable manner,” North-Coombes points out.

This partnership has also involved training, both among the farmers that work with Transmara Sugar and the company’s own staff.

The miller has worked with farmers to adapt to the post-COVID environment. Sugar manufacturing is an essential service in Kenya so Transmara Sugar’s operations continued during the pandemic.

“We’ve had to put systems in place so we can continue our operation in a safe environment and we’ve been lucky in that so far we haven’t had any COVID cases at our plant,” North-Coombes says. “We’ve seen the market has been slower because the buying power of the customers has dropped, but our production team has put all the hygiene measures, social distancing, the wearing of face masks, and sanitation systems in place so we could continue safely.”

Meanwhile, Transmara Sugar already has one eye on the future. Looking ahead, North-Coombes sees more challenges, but also more opportunities.

“We still need to increase our supply,” he tells us. “We’re also looking into generating our own power. We want to launch a 25-megawatt power plant in the near future and maybe in the longer term begin adding value to our products, such as molasses.”

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