21 July 2009

Nigeria: Inside The Country's Only Sugar Factory

Abuja — Unlike India which has 650 sugar factories, Nigeria's one and only sugar producing factory-the Savannah Sugar Company in Numan, Adamawa State- is marching ahead as its owners pumped N12 billion into it. Other sugar companies in the country, including the Bacita Sugar Company in Kwara State merely import and refine raw sugar.

The Savannah, as it is being called was acquired by the Dangote Industries Limited (DIL) in 2002. The Dangote Group of Companies has since it emerged the preferred bidder and core investor in 2002 pumped lots of resources, both human and material into the company headed by an Indian Managing Director Mr. Mahesh Gupta; a man with over 30 years cognate experience in Sugar production.

For the purpose of sugar cane cultivation and other uses of the company, the Savannah Sugar has a total of 32,000 hectares of land, 15km North of Numan. Numan lies on the South Bank of River Benue, some 62km West of Yola and about 180km South East of Gombe Railway Station.

The company is a world on its own. It generates its own power (6.4 mega watt), it plants its own sugar cane, its uses it own water, the firm's about 5,000 workforce work 24 hours a day and it is presently constructing a 16km canal at the cost N500 million. But Daily Trust observed that the canal is still at its embryonic stage. This paper also noted that the company has both Indian and Nigerian workers. According to the MD, 62.71 per cent of its staff are from Adamawa State, while 37.29 per cent are from the other states. Although some few states like Niger are yet to be represented in the Savannah.

Of its 32,000 hectares of land, only 6,330 are currently under use; and during its 2008/2009 crop season, a total of 12,200 metric tons of sugar were produced and all the cane field were harvested.

The factory-according to the Managing Director Mr. Mahesh Gupta who explained to newsmen during a familiarisation visit- has a designed capacity of 100,000 metric tons of granulated Sugar.

Mr. Gupta said, "A feasibility study was carried out between 1972 and 1973 by the CDC, TATE and LYLE technical services and ward ASHCROFT and PARKMAN Nigeria Ltd. The study recommended that a sugar project made up of 100,000MT sugar mill and an irrigated sugarcane plantation to provide the raw material should be undertaken.

"Although the Federal Government appointed CDC as the project's managing agents in 1975 but did not approve its implementation until February 1977 when capital requirement total was estimated at N246.5 million. The first phase of the factory including the building and a plant with processing capacity of 50,000 tons per annum was completed in 1980." He added: "To further improve our cane quality, 30 more varieties were imported from Barbados by NSDC in addition to varieties from NCRI Badeggi which were also planted during this season."

The company has a strong plan for the nearest future. According to the MD, it intends to jerk up its production capacity to 50,000MT between 2009 and 2010, 70,000MT between 2010 and 2011 and 100,000 from 2011 to 2012.

While taking newsmen round the factory, Mr. Gupta explained: "From March 2010, we plan to build another plant of 800,000 tons capacity which will be made ready for operation by October 2012 and thereafter Savannah will be equipped to produce 100 to 150,000 MT of sugar per year on a regular basis." To the newsmen who visited the sugar factory, it is an eye opener to the sleeping potentials of Nigeria. To them the savannah, though in operation still have some miles to cover in its efforts to supplying the 1.1millions tons yearly sugar demand of Nigerians. The savannah has just 50,000 tons capacity.

Perhaps one of the few areas that would need governments' attention in the nearest future is the derivatives from the company. These include but not limited to power, fertilizer and ethanol. The MD told the visiting newsmen of its plans to equip the plant with cogeneration technology capable of generating the required power out of which 32MW will be exported to the national grid.

Speaking on ethanol, he said: "We have plans to go for a 65000KLPD (Kilo litre per day) ethanol plant. Detailed specifications/layout etc have already been worked out and we plan to confirm order on supplier early 2010 so as to make it ready for operation by October 2011." The area the company has made the most mark, according to its MD is in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility.

He said it has rehabilitated the Zangun to Imburu road, repaired damaged Benue River embankment for flood control , repaired Zangun bridge for canal crossing, renovation of three classrooms and provision of land for school construction. At Opalo, the company gave out electricity poles and transformer.

At the Gywana, the people enjoy 24 hours power supply due to connection to the Savannah industrial line, provision of transformers among other works in the nearby communities. He said the job opportunities created by given farmers necessary incentives to grow sugar cane and buying it from the farmers has led to the springing up of some commercial banks branches within the company and its environs.

This has led to increase in banking culture. Similarly, he said that over 1,000 hectares of irrigated rice and other crops are being grown by the communities using the company's canals. The visit to the Savannah Sugar Company shows that the future of Nigeria lies in the development of agro-allied industries. With more of these companies, employment will be created; power and ethanol will be generated. Above all, fertilizers from sugar will be produced and ploughed back to the farms. The visit to the premier sugar company is coming as the Federal Government last week announced a N500 billion stimulant package to revive the real sector, and another N100 billion bailout fund for the cotton and textile sector.

The consensus of newsmen at the Savannah is that Nigeria must revert to agriculture and industrialisation if it must be a key player in global scheme of things.

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