A shortage of sugar in Kenya has pushed prices for the commodity in the neigbouring country, creating an incentive for smugglers to flout procedures and illegally export big consignment of the sweetener over the northern border.
Reports from Kagera Region, in Tanzania yesterday said some 13 tonnes of sugar have been seized by authorities as smugglers sought to illegally cross the border to Kenya with the consignment.
The product from the Kagera Sugar factory was switched and packed into bags from the South Nyanza Sugar Company Limited (Sony Sugar) of Kenya to try and dupe officials into thinking that the product originated from the neighbouring country.
The illegal sugar exports to Kenya are already exarcebating the already rising prices of sugar in Tanzania and threaten to create a local shortage during this time when most sugar factories have temporarily halted production due to the ongoing rain season.
The price of a kilogramme of sugar has risen from 140 Kenyan shillings to between KSh165 and KSh190 (over 4,100 Tanzanian shillings).
Kenyans are also paying more for maize flour, dry maize, milk, rice, cooking oil, cereals, dry beans, tomatoes and potatoes and have begun crossing the border to Tanzania to buy food.
Last week, police in Migori, Kenya, arrested a driver with 11 sacks of sugar he was transporting from Tanzania to Nairobi.
A kilo of sugar retails up to KSh200 (over 4,300 Tanzanian shillings) in Migori which lies in the south Nyanza sugarcane belt, while across the border in Tanzania, a kilo retails for half that price.
Kenyans living at the border with Tanzania are now reported to be crossing over to buy basic food commodities such as maize, milk and sugar. This is due to the biting shortage of the commodities in most Kenyan towns.
Majority of residents near Busia and Malaba borders are crossing to the neighbouring countries to shop as it is slightly cheaper there.
Interviews with traders in Voi, Mwatate, Wundanyi and Taveta border town indicate some unscrupulous traders from both Kenya and Tanzania might be hoarding foodstuffs.
Residents and traders in Taveta town situated along the Kenya-Tanzania border said they have been buying sugar from the neighbouring country in the recent past but it had ran out of stock.
"We have been buying a kilogramme of sugar from Tanzania for between KSh120 (2,500 Tanzanian shillings) and KSh130 but the commodity has run out of stock," said Barnaba Maimbo, a Taveta town resident.
"Tanzania has started importing sugar hence occasioning the shortage," said another resident.
Traders interviewed said they have been secretly importing food supplies cheaply from Tanzania and selling at higher prices in the local Kenyan market.
A Voi trader disclosed that a 50kg bag sugar from Tanzania was locally trading at KSh8,400 (over 180,000 Tanzanian shillings) in Kenya. She has been buying the bag from Tanzania for Sh6,300 (135,000 Tanzanian shillings), hence making a sweet profit.
Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa last week acknowledged in Parliament that there was a sugar shortage in the country, but said the government was working to aleviate the scarcity.
He said the government has ordered over 130,000 tonnes of sugar to be imported from abroad to meet the current local shortage.