- Boosting Sugar Cane Farming to Create Jobs
Nigeria is one of the major producers of sugarcane in Africa, with about 500,000 hectares of land which can produce about five million metric tonnes (mt) of sugarcane.
According to the National Sugar Development Council (NSDC), the five million metric tonnes (Mt) of sugarcane will yield about three million mt of sugar if processed.
However, despite the country’s potential in sugar production for local consumption, its reliance on importation has become worrisome as it produces only two per cent of its sugar requirement. Nigeria imports about 1.7 million tonnes of sugar, up from 1.3 million tonnes in 2016.
To address this, there have been various private sector efforts to encourage increase in acreage and cultivation.
It was against this backdrop that the sleepy town of Mokwa in Niger State witnessed the inauguration of the Sunti Golden Sugar Estates Limited, a subsidiary of Flour Mills of Nigeria (FMN ), by President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to Buhari, the N50 billion estate will produce 100,000 tonnes of high quality raw sugar annually to feed Flour Mills Sugar Refinery.
His words: “While we have had some challenges in the implementation of the National Sugar Master Plan (NSMP) in the past, I believe that our vision of attaining self-sufficiency in sugar in Nigeria is well within sight, with the kind of investment that has been made here. I am told that the Estate will engage up to 10,000 people directly once developed, including a network of over 3,000 small-scale outgrowers of sugarcane. This to my mind is central to this administration’s determination to create jobs and gainfully engage our people.”
Niger State Governor Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello said the decision by Flour Mills to set up a sugarcane plantation in Sunti was the kind of step the state needed to actualise its quest to boost agriculture. The investment, according to him, is also an evidence of the unexploited potential in the sector.
Such ventures, he stressed, are needed and the plantation in particular in Niger State is timely, especially when the overnment is working towards developing a sustainable, diversified and competitive agricultural sector to ensure greater economic stability and growth.
He added that the state was interested in ensuring that more investors established enterprises to create jobs to improve people’s livelihood.
Bello said: “For a long time now, lack of infrastructure has been one of the major hindrances to investment in agriculture. To this end, the government is working to support infrastructure across the state.”
He said while the state appreciated and welcomed investors as partners in development, it expected them to take part by investing in agriculture and helping to grow the economy and eradicate poverty.
“Niger people are proud farmers. For many years, we have cultivated rice, sorghum, millet, cowpeas, corn (maize), palm oil and kernels, kola nuts and sugarcane for local consumption and export. To this end, agriculture has always been a top priority for our state and will always receive our utmost support.
“When we declared 2018 as the year of ‘Agricultural revolution,’ in Niger State, it was a reminder to our people of the immense natural resources that we have been blessed with. And that is why projects such as the Sunti Sugar Estate are a perfect model for investment in our state. From my last visit to Sunti Golden Sugar Estates in 2016 to date, I must say that I am delighted with the level of work and investment that has been put into this project,” Bello said.
Flour Mills Chairman Mr. John Coumantaros said: “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 outgrowers, who will be cultivating sugar cane to feed the mill.
“The project illustrates the desire to reduce sugar importation, save billions in foreign exchange, boost local capacity and reduce unemployment by putting thousands of Nigerians to work,” he said.
He thanked the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Bank of Industry (BoI), the Ministries of Finance, Industry, Trade and Investment and Agriculture for their support for the project, adding that “a project of this nature could never have taken place without the staunch support of Mr President and the Niger State Governor.”
He said N50 billion had been invested in the Sunti Golden Sugar Estate. The company, he said, has significantly invested in food and agro-allied value chains to align with the government’s agricultural initiatives.
Flour Mills, he explained, is determined to ensure the success of agro-allied investments through maximising local content in the company’s final products while it remains committed to its policy of being involved at all stages of the food value chain: from farm to table.
Enclosed within a 35-kilometre dyke, the production facility area is about 17,000 hectares, with a cane area of a maximum output of 10,000 hectares.
The estate features the state-of-the-art irrigation system that will ensure efficient cultivation of sugar cane, with infrastructure, which includes drain pumps, pump stations and power grid.
Drains, culverts and flood-protection walls have also been constructed. The state-of-the art operations bring new technology to the sugar cane farming and milling industry that is poised to increase production yield, create new jobs for Nigerians and teach them new skills. Currently, sugar cane is grown on 3,000 hectares and cultivated under irrigation, making it an annual crop, with 276 hectare (ha) furrow, 700ha pivot and the balance under sprinkler irrigation.
It is harvested by hand and transported by road to the factory using haulage tractors to pull a pair of tandem trailers with a capacity for 30 tonnes of cane.
The estate has brought infrastructure benefits to the surrounding community, with 28 communities taking advantage of the new 30-kilometre road plus expansive road networks, which provide a variety of access routes to indigenes’ homes.
At the farm, smart agriculture is helping the company increase crop yield,optimise workers and machines performance .
Processing will ensure every part of the cane is used.
As a result of the steady demand for skilled workers, which will grow, Niger State will draw labour from other states, and provide training for local workers.