The sugarcane bio-factory

sugarcaneTHE inauguration in Abuja, the other day, of Nigeria’s first sugarcane bio-factory marks a milestone in the implementation of the Nigeria Sugar Master Plan (NSMP), approved by the immediate past Goodluck Jonathan administration in October 2012. The NSMP is a backward integration policy of government designed to ensure self-sufficiency in sugar production in the country and thereby conserve about $350 million annually in foreign exchange.

That Nigeria imports 98 per cent of sugar consumed in the country is unreasonable and economically suicidal. In 2013 alone, for instance, Nigeria reportedly spent $500 million on sugar importation. This trend bolsters the economies of the exporting nations while Nigeria’s is undermined. Nigeria has large expanse of arable land suitable for sugarcane production. So, nothing prevents the country from producing and refining enough sugar for use and export?

Against this background, effort is being intensified towards protectionist measures to grow the local sugar sub-sector. Part of the measures is the ban on the importation of packaged sugar, granulated and in cubes since January 2013. The aim is to drastically reduce the quantity of sugar imported into the country and boost local production. The new sugarcane bio-factory is, therefore, a positive step towards realising the objective. And the new Muhammadu Buhari-led government should see it to fruition.

A bio-factory is a facility where disease-free crop seedlings are rapidly micro-propagated under controlled laboratory environment for planting in the fields. The facility is designed to address a critical constraint facing Nigeria’s sugar industry, which is a timely provision of high quality and clean seeds to sugar estates and farmers across Nigeria.

The inauguration of the one million seedlings per year capacity bio-factory is the first in the series of bio-factories to be established in the next five years, with combined capacity estimated at 12.5 million cane seedlings per annum.

The provision of high grade and quality seedlings of sugarcane is essential to the attainment of the set goals of the Nigeria Sugar Master Plan (NSMP). The projection in the NSMP is that at least 250,000 hectares of sugarcane fields would be required for processing in about 28 mills of varying capacities.

The production of sugar is an integrated process with field and factory processes that are inter-dependent and mutually inclusive. In this regard, the efficiency in the cultivation and supply of sugarcane is essential for efficient milling and production of sugar and associated by-products such as ethanol and electricity. It would be recalled that since 2007, the Federal Government has been fashioning a new energy policy that includes a National Biofuel Policy Incentive (NBPI), which provides the enabling environment for investors to operate.

Under the framework, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) created a Renewable Energy Division (RED), upon the mandate of government to spearhead the development of biofuel industry in the country. The biofuel initiative launched under RED is aimed at enlisting core joint-venture investors into the industry.

The joint-venture projects include investment in large-scale cultivation of sugarcane, cassava ethanol and palm oil biodiesel production. These include a 40,000-hectare sugarcane plantation, fitted with ethanol, sugar and cogeneration plant; 10,000 hectares of cassava farm fitted with ethanol plant and 20,000 hectares of palm oil plantation fitted with oil extraction and biodiesel conversion plant. The sugarcane bio-factory comes under this plan. The cassava and palm oil components are expected to follow.

Reports indicate that the NNPC had secured appropriate contiguous locations in parts of the country and has initiated detailed feasibility studies with reputable international experts. Under the plan, the JVs strategic investors with expertise in managing the projects would be sought to drive the venture.

There is indication that in the near future, biofuel energy would constitute a significant portion of the country’s energy mix, especially, given the drive towards diversification of energy sources. The quest for alternative sources of energy has also already attracted private investors.

Since 2009, Global Biofuels Limited, a private venture concern, initiated the construction of Nigeria’s first biofuel refinery at Arigidi-Akoko in Ondo State. The plant has capacity to produce about 1.5 million litres of ethanol, and would directly employ no fewer than 50,000 workers.

Since the Kyoto Protocol stipulated a mandatory E-10 requirement, all the signatory countries are expected to introduce 10 per cent bio-ethanol in their energy market. The sugarcane bio-factory is a step towards meeting this target.

Nigeria should now sustain all the effort being made towards ethanol and biodiesel production. That way, in no distant time, the 10 per cent requirement would be attained to boost the country’s energy. And Nigeria will be the better for it.

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1 Comment
  • Maigari

    Good as it might sound there are obvious hidden aspects of the bio-fuel project that need to be considered first. Nigeria is still far short of having food security in the real meaning of the term in that we import far more of the foods we consume than we produce locally. A bio-fuel project will naturally take a large percentage of the agricultural lad thus raising food prices. Furthermore, there is bound to be speculation and hedging all leading to unneeded wastage. No, what we need is a factually control transport sector to reduce he massive wastage, accidents and reliance on imported spares from simple tyres to engines. That is the direction we should be heading to not the expensive bio-fuels making the vogue in the US.