Nigeria imports N2.7tn sugar as government master plan stalls

Edidiong Ikpoto | Punch
Despite committing over N170bn to boosting self-sufficiency in sugar production, Nigeria spent about N2.7tn on raw sugar imports during the decade-long period of the National Sugar Master Plan.

The National Sugar Master Plan has its origin in a 2008 Federal Government directive asking the National Sugar Development Council to develop a roadmap for the attainment of self-sufficiency in sugar within the shortest time possible.

The plan had estimated that our demand for sugar would reach the 1.7 million metric tonnes mark by 2020.

Although the plan was aimed at cutting down sugar imports, Nigeria imported N2.7tn sugar between 2012 and 2022, the precise duration of the first phase of the NSMP.

According to data sourced from the National Sugar Development Council and the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2012 (the first year of the NSMP), Nigeria imported raw sugar worth N238.6bn into the country.

In 2013, raw sugar worth N239.4bn was imported. This was followed by N292bn in 2014 and N255bn in 2015. Overall, the highest figure was recorded in 2021, when sugar imports hit a staggering N425bn. According to available data, most of the imports came from Brazil as well as Andorra.

The figures, going by the goal of the NSMP, means that very little has been achieved by way of cutting down on sugar imports and improving infrastructure that will enable Nigeria to achieve self-sufficiency and also export sugar to foreign countries.

According to the original NSMP blueprint, Nigeria was to establish 28 sugar factories of varying capacities and bring about 250,000 hectares of land into sugarcane cultivation during the 10-year period. The bulk of the investment capital was projected to come from private investors.

However, the national sugar master was recently renewed by the Federal Government due to the failure to halt excessive raw sugar imports into the country during the initial 10-year period.

It is also pertinent to note that when the sugar masterplan was first conceived in 2008, Nigeria ranked as the fourth largest sugar importer in the world. By the time the first phase of the sugar master plan expired in 2022, Nigeria had moved up to third on the list. This was despite the huge investments in the plan and repeated promises by the Federal Government,

However, the Federal Government said the objective of the NSMP had been partially achieved with the birth of Dangote Sugar Refinery, BUA Sugar Refinery and Golden Sugar Refinery.

According to the Executive Secretary/Chief Executive of the National Sugar Development Council, Zacch Adedeji, the big players in the industry have led to the country refining 3.5m metric tonnes of sugar, a figure that doubles what is consumed in the country.

Adedeji, however, during a meeting in February announced that the goal of the NSMP, which was to stimulate backward integration in sugar production, was not being met.

Given the high demand for sugar in the country, the companies have spent more to import raw, which affects the success of the BIP which seeks to limit the importation of the commodity and also create millions of jobs for Nigerians.

To double down on the goal, Adedeji told the sugar companies that subsequent quota for allocation of raw sugar would no longer depend on the size of refining capacity but the extent to which operators had complied with the BIP policy.

He said the new model was to reward efforts made towards complying with the BIP which seeks to get companies to reinvest profits in establishing sugar estates.

This, he said, would enable the country to be self-sufficient in the production of sugar through the 250,000 hectares needed to produce the 1.7 metric tons of sugar consumed annually.

Adedeji also said the NSMP had forced indigenous companies to significantly raise investments in backward integration programme in sugar plantation farming and processing.

With the realisation that closing the gap in achieving production is still a long way ahead, President Muhammadu Buhari, last year, launched a N30bn infrastructure intervention to drive development in the sugar sector.

The intervention was for infrastructure development to “accelerate Sugar Backward Integration Programme projects for irrigation infrastructure on 10,000 hectares of sugar plantations located at six BIP sites: Numan-Adamawa State; Sunti-Niger State; Lafiagi and Bacita-Kwara State; and Toto and Tunga-Nasarawa State.”

While speaking exclusively with The PUNCH, the Head of Media at the NSDC, Yunusa Williams, said admitted that investor apathy had negatively affected the projected impact of the NSMP.

According to him, the sugar business requires a long gestation period before yielding returns on investment, and this has often deterred potential investors.

He said, “Our objective is to see that Nigeria attains self-sufficiency in sugar production, and in doing that, the programme has to be holistic. We have to look at a number of factors responsible for why we still import sugar into Nigeria.

“The sector is open to willing investors. Our doors are open and we welcome investors into the sugar sector. The guys on the ground cannot do it alone. The sugar sector is a capital-intensive sector.

“So, many people are afraid of putting their money because it will take time before it yields returns, but those who have mastered the business very well know that the sugar business is a gold mine.”

On his part, the President of the Premium Bread Makers Association of Nigerian, Emmanuel Onuorah,  blamed continuous sugar imports for the continuous surge in the price of sugar.

According to him, the government has failed provide the enabling environment that would ensure the success of the proposed sugar master plan.

He said, “Last month, the price of sugar has gone up by N6,000. Why sugar is costly because it is imported.  For the backward integration, we are just doing 10 per cent of our annual consumption. In January, we were buying sugar for N29,000. Today, it is about N40,000. That is how it has been in the past two years. Sugar used to be cheaper than flour, but now it is more expensive.”

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