Unproductive sugarcane value chain threatens Nigerian sugar industry —Report

Considering the importance of sugar in the production of pharmaceuticals, soft drinks, confectionery, food and beverages, and other ways of usage in human daily needs, the sugar industry across the globe has become a strategic sector, providing exports, creating thousands of jobs, generating electricity and improving domestic economy of producing nations.

Many advanced sugar producing countries in the world are deriving various socio-economic benefits from the sugar sector. For instance, an estimated six million Kenyans derive their livelihood from the industry which directly supports 25,000 farmers. In Brazil, fuel ethanol from sugarcane is used to power over 86 per cent of the country’s light vehicles while Mauritius generates 40 per cent of its electricity requirement through biogases co-generation.

According to a report, “Nigerian Sugar Master Plan” published by the National Sugar Development Council, “Nigeria belongs to the International Sugar Organisation whose member countries numbering 92 in all represent 80 per cent of the total world sugar production, 81 per cent of total world consumption, 64 per cent of total sugar exports and 55 per cent of sugar imports.

“Among all these categories, however, Nigeria only belongs to the category of sugar importers. When compared to our African neighbours, Nigeria is the least food-secure in terms of sugar as most of them produce substantial proportion of their sugar requirement.”

Being fully aware of the challenges besieging the sugar industry, the Nigerian government through Federal Executive Council (FEC) in 2012 approved the national sugar roadmap called the Nigerian Sugar Master Plan (NSMP) as a vehicle that would drive the country’s sugar sector towards self sufficiency in the next 10 years.

The report released by the NSDC states that “the Nigerian Sugar Master Plan is a road map designed to make the Nigerian sugar industry transform into a world class multi-product sugarcane industry. The NSMP provides a framework for setting goals, defining key actions and generating and allocating resources to fund programmes in the industry.

To this end, government adopted the ‘Value Chain Approach’ as the most effective means of driving agribusiness to ensure that the implementation of the NSMP covers the entire sugarcane value chain with forward and backward linkages among players.

The value chain was meant to create a cordial relationship between farm operation from pre-factory operation to processing and distribution with harvesters, millers, wholesalers and industrial consumers. The target was to have an effective flow from out growers (sugarcane farmers) to transporters to distillers, retailers and domestic consumers.

Considering the delicacy in sugar processing, the chain was created to improve the quality of sugarcane farm operation through skilled manpower and application of modern farming techniques for increased harvest as well as the use of technology in refining processes.

Though from inception, Nigeria has never produced up to four per cent of the country’s sugar demand, from 2015 to 2018, the country produced 83,406 metric tonnes of sugar while consuming over 5.61 million metric tonnes within the same period.

NSMP has an estimated production target of 1.797 million metric tonnes of sugar by 2020, with a total of 224, 000 hectares of land coverage for cultivation of sugarcane, less than two years to this target, Nigeria is yet to witness any significant improvement in sugar production as demand for the product seems to overwhelm the sector which depends on importation to meet the demand, spending over N101.9 billion annually on importation.

The pioneer companies under the backward integration programme, Golden Sugar, Dangote and Bua Sugar have complained over the past years that community hostility, some state government unwillingness to release land, flooding of sugarcane farm and infrastructural deficit had hindered their performance.

Although the Executive Secretary of the National Sugar Development Council (NSDC), Dr Latif Busari said weeks ago in Lagos at the Sugar Industry Technology Symposium that Nigeria has all it takes to attain self sufficiency in sugar production.

While emphasising the importance of the symposium, Busari noted that “this would be one of the many events that would expose operators in the Nigerian sugar industry to new technologies for field and factory operations; address deficiencies in skills and available manpower in the sector and provide platforms for business relationships that would enhance the capacity of the local sugar industry.”

He also added that “We have brought in more technology providers and experts in order to give our investors and other participants a range of different production and sugar processing technologies to consider,” Busari stated.

However, with no single training institute in Nigeria to train and equip manpower in the application of technology in the sector, this, has greatly affected the input and output of the value chain approach in ensuring an increased in farm operation, pre-factory operation, processing and distribution of sugar in the country.

Though government is currently in the process of establishing a training institution to be called Nigerian Sugar Institute, this effort seems to be coming late as most of the factors that have hindered the effectiveness of the value chain from  lack of adequate skilled manpower and the use of sufficient technology one still in place.

According to the NSMP report, the major challenges that have rendered the value chain ineffective in the category of farm operation  include, “weak research extension, low adoption of high yielding cane varieties , excessive land subdivision, drought, cane fire and diseases, long maturity periods and limited irrigation.”

In the category of pre-factory operation, “delayed and uncoordinated harvest, dilapidated infrastructure, high poor harvest losses, inadequate trailer designs, poor cane yard management, small or uncoordinated planting and harvesting units have challenged the growth of the sugar industry.

“Irregular routine factory maintenance, low crushing capacity, low sugar extraction, slow adoption of new and appropriate technology, lack of industrial research, high cost of sugar production, narrow product base, dilapidated processing equipment and inefficient factory operation are the challenges faced by the value chain under processing category.

While in distribution category, strong cartel of importers, limited value addition and product diversification and high transport cost, are said to be the challenges. Again, under consumption category, the report says imported sugar is cheaper and Nigeria does not have the capacity to process industrial sugar.

For the country to attain self-sufficiency in sugar production or at least produce better part of her sugar requirement, the National Sugar Development council needs to periodically review the performance of the backward integrated programme and also enforce sanctions.

Again, the Sugar Trust Fund should be made easily accessible especially to out growers (farmers) to enable timely planting using the application of technology for an increased harvest. Government should also ensure the availability of different variety in seedlings in order to have variety of sugar product in the market.

Seven years into the plan with no significant improvement in the production of sugar and a projection of over 1.7 million metric tons as Nigerians demand for sugar by 2022, government certainly needs to do more to ensure that the industry does not collapse in the hands of importation.

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