COVID-19 could delay national sugar plan target – Dangote MD

Chinnaya Sylvain Judex is the General Manager of Dangote Sugar Refinery, Numan, Adamawa State. He says ODINAKA ANUDU how the company plans to contribute to Nigeria’s quest for self-sufficiency in sugar production

Dangote Sugar is investing billions of naira in Numan in line with the National Sugar Master Plan. What level of progress has been made since the company fully bought this site from Savannah Sugar in 2020?

Obviously, there has been a lot of progress in terms of production and social opportunities. Much progress has been made in the prosperity of our surrounding communities. We focus on the national sugar master plan. Originally it was a 10 year plan, but we’ve been a bit delayed by what’s happening around the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped us. I’m sure you’ve been around the farm and seen that the expansion is on the way. We are talking about an increase of 3,000 hectares per year. We already have a factory of 3,800 tons of skin per day. Another 6,000 tons are coming. The ultimate goal is to have 9,800 tons of skin per day. The factory wasn’t even at 2,000 a day before we took over. This will definitely help us achieve the Nigerian sugar master plan. It’s not just Numan, we have Nasarawa and other actors on the ground participating in this master plan. We are confident that we are investing whatever is necessary to achieve this goal. We are the only player in North East Nigeria. We have other areas where we want to do business and bring the sugar factory. Taraba, Adamawa and Nasarawa are places where we play. One of the problems we face is knowledge transfer, because there is a lot of knowledge behind sugar technology. We work very hard to train our staff to ensure we achieve a high level of crushing because there is a lot of technology behind it all.

So far, how much has been invested in this site? Also, is there a possibility of expansion beyond 9,800 tonnes?

Our land holdings are 32,000 hectares. This year we are reaching 8,650 hectares and each year we plan to increase by 3,000. In three to four years, we will exceed 11,000 hectares. One of our prerogatives is the yield of the cane. We faced yield issues due to variety and land depletion. Here we have been planting cane for 40 years. There is a depletion of the land, but we correct these problems through organic matter and fallowing just to ensure that the capacity of the land can bring us more than 120 tons per hectare. We manage 70 to 80 tons of hide per hectare. We have projected 82 tonnes for the next fiscal year. Profitability will come when you reach 120 tons per hectare. This means you increase your yield by 80 to 120 per hectare. That’s the game.

On investments, I’ll give you in terms of percentages. We are over 400% invested compared to what we had here before. Each year, the company invests a lot in order to achieve the desired objective.

What timelines do you foresee for the completion of some of these investments?

In October of this year, we plan to commission a boiler and a turbine. By November next year, we will be able to produce our 6,000 tonnes of cane per day. When we’ve been through this COVID-19, there’s a lot of equipment that needs to come. We could be in a good position by October this year because the boiler and the turbine will be in operation.

There is a goal set by the National Sugar master plan. In terms of percentages, how many were you able to achieve that?

In terms of investments, we have already invested. To achieve this, we must put what we have invested in operations. When you look at the blueprint itself, it’s not just Numan. The master plan involves other actors and I am sure that we will be able to achieve the objective of the master plan. Certainly it won’t be within the 10 year timeframe because we’ve been delayed due to this wave of COVID-19, but I’m sure we’ll cover it.

How much shared prosperity is there between the company and the community?

What I can tell you is that we have increased our budget for corporate social responsibility. We are very aware that our prosperity depends on the prosperity of our communities. We are not a free electron that we can develop by itself. It is thanks to our people, thanks to our workers that we prosper. We grow with our communities. It’s not a finished game. This means that tomorrow my worker, his children and grandchildren will benefit from what Dangote has deposited here. It’s a game that has gained momentum because it’s going from one generation to, say, the next five generations.

Can you tell us how your outsourcing program contributes to this shared prosperity?

We have to look at the end picture of the game, which is to put sugar on the market, to be self-sufficient in the Nigerian sugar market. The parameters we need are space, which is land, and cane yield. We started 32,000 hectares. Right now we have a community in Adamawa and we work with them on 450 hectares of cane. We developed it and we continue. We nurture small community producers to become our community. We must go in the same direction when we talk about shared prosperity. He won’t come tomorrow morning, but there are plenty of opportunities there. Every time we grow, we bring contractors with us. We want to reach 40% of the area of ​​our land to give this opportunity to others. We don’t see it from the perspective of our own land; we encourage others to have their land and cultivate. We are very confident because there are a lot of opportunities in this area. We have just introduced drip irrigation, which is a new technology. It’s the first time I’ve done it here. We did it on the lands of our small producers just to encourage them. The difference between our current practice and the one you saw there is yield. Drip irrigation is supposed to have 150 tons per hectare. Senegal does it a lot. We are working with two companies to excel in this project. If you look at the stats, you might not get the right conclusion, but if you look at the performance of contractors going from 50 or 70 to 150, you’ll see that’s where we’re aiming.

Nigeria’s demand for sugar exceeds 1.5 million tons a year, but we are far behind. How much sugar do you get from your site?

We have 23,000, but that’s because we missed the cane. That means in 2021 we couldn’t crash and run smoothly, but that’s behind us now. We have learned our lessons. For the next agricultural campaign, we are talking about 650,000 tonnes of cane, which should roughly amount to 55,000 to 65,000 tonnes of sugar on our farm alone. But every year we add 3,000 hectares and by the grace of God, if we are successful in our technology, we will triple our prosperity. We work directly with the National Sugar Institute and the National Sugar Development Council. We visited Ilorin the last time we did tissue culture. One of the aspects we look at is the variety of cane. Cane is a plant that will not give the same yield in different environments. We work in direct relation with NSO and NSDC in order to have the best varieties to obtain the best quantity of sugar in the cane.

What criteria or model do you use in your land acquisition?

We’re still a third of where we need to go. I told you about our 32,000 hectares and we have enough room for improvement. Our subcontractors are our ambassadors. In terms of our understanding here, we work with our small producers and the communities. Cane yields higher than any other cash crop you want to compare. I had the chance to work in some countries. In all these countries, the sugar cane growers are very rich people. The day you see people start buying cars and sending their children to school and getting good health care from sugarcane, then you will see the importance of what we say. So the approach is very simple, it’s a win-win situation. We are in business and we have a strategy in place so that no matter how well we perform, we want our contract growers to be better than they are now. An example is drip irrigation. So we don’t want anyone to lose. In the past, there was this episode of what the company or the community was going to gain, but there is shared prosperity right now.

Rachel J. Bradford