By Jimoh Babatunde
In spite of Nigeria’s competitive and comparative advantages for sugar production, the country has not been able to derive all the benefits derivable from a vibrant sugar sector as just about 2 per cent of the nation’s sugar requirements are met locally.
So, one can imagine the annual drain on the country’s foreign reserve in terms of sugar importation, the loss of hundreds of thousands of employment opportunities for skilled, semi-skilled labour and food insecurity arising from sugar import-dependence.
But all these are about to change now. In 2008, the Federal Government directed the National Sugar Development Council, NSDC, to develop a road map for the attainment of self-sufficiency in sugar within the shortest time possible.
In compliance, the Council came up with the Nigeria Sugar Master Plan, which estimated that the country’s demand for sugar would reach the 1.7 million metric tonnes (MMT) mark by 2020.
It was gathered that those involved with the master plan noted that to satisfy the sugar demand from domestic production, Nigeria will need to establish some 28 sugar factories of varying capacities and bring about 250,000 hectares of land into sugar-cane cultivation over the next 10 years.
In their wisdom, the bulk of the investment capital will come from private investors and it is not surprising that many private sector investors have taken the bull by the horn through massive investment in the sugar sector.
One of such is the Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc that had its N50 billion Sunti Golden Sugar Estate, comprises 16,000 hectares of irrigable farmland and a sugar mill that processes 4,500 metric tons of sugarcane per day in Mokwa, Niger State inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The estate is the purest representation of the Federal Government’s Nigerian Sugar Master Plan, NSMP with an ambitious Backward integration programme that intends to set Nigeria on the path to self-sufficient sugar production.
Buhari described the project as timely in view of the appreciable growth of the nation’s economy after it exited recession.
He explained that the sugar refinery was a clear demonstration that policies of the present administration on diversification of the economy were on the right track.
“I want to commend the company for expanding the business and creating more jobs for our youths.
“The project built at N50 billion makes it one of the major agro-allied investments in Nigeria,” he said.
The president said that the project would improve the lives of indigenes of the area and called on other investors to key into similar investments for the progress of the country.
“To ensure that we do not lose momentum in our strategic roadmap of developing the sugar sub-sector, and achieving the target of attaining self-sufficiency in sugar production, it is perhaps time to revive also our sugar industries of old – this of course brings to mind the once flourishing sugar industry in Bacita, Kwara State which was established in 1964.
“This administration will welcome the opportunity to work with investors like Flour Mills to restore the glory of what was once a reputable industrial hub for sugar and pride for Nigeria.”
He reaffirmed commitment of the present administration to the diversification of the nation’s economy, saying that his government would continue to support investors by providing enabling business environment.
For Mr. John Coumantaros, the Chairman, the farm at peak production will provide direct employment for about 10,000 people yearly, and impact up to 50,000 people indirectly, including 3,000 small-scale out growers who will be cultivating sugarcane to feed the mill.
“At full capacity, the estate is expected to produce one million tons of sugarcane which roughly translates into 100,000 metric tons of sugar yearly. This locally produced sugar is going to save Nigeria 100 million dollars in foreign exchange every year!”
Coumantaros said that the investment directly demonstrates their confidence in the governments’ vision to overhaul the agricultural sector and particularly for the attainment of the National Sugar Master Plan target of achieving self-sufficiency in the production of sugar locally.
He added “like most of our investments in the agricultural sector, the Sunti Sugar Estate will serve to raise the living standards of people particularly those in the rural areas, strengthen the capabilities of small-scale farmers and provide them a route to the market.
Coumantaros continued, “at FMN, we believe that the importance of integrating industry with agriculture cannot be overemphasized. A farm, without a factory, will have no place for its produce, and a factory without a farm will have no raw materials. Here in Niger State, we have successfully united both industry and agriculture and in doing so, have created jobs, developed capacities and enriched livelihoods which opens the road to a greater future.
He also commended the Central Bank of Nigeria and the host community for creating an enabling environment for the company to operate.
Also speaking, Governor Abubakar Bello said that the company would create jobs and uplift the economy of the state and the country to greater heights.
He said that the state government had set aside 2,000 hectares of land for mechanised farming in Tegina, Kuta, Nasko and Bida under its agricultural development scheme to boost food production.
Bello said that the project would be upgraded to train youths in modern farming techniques, besides the resuscitation of irrigation schemes and rehabilitation of 15 agricultural equipment centres across the state.
According to him, the state government is also supporting farmers to boost agriculture production by ensuring timely supply of fertilizer and farm implements among other inputs.
Bello also appealed to the Federal Government to ensure completion of Minna-Suleja road, Tegina-Kontagora-Rijau and Mokwa-Jebba to make the state attractive to more investors.