• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Sugar quota allocation will no longer be based on refinery size – Adedeji

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Zach Adedeji, executive secretary of the National Sugar Development Council, speaks about the Nigerian Sugar Masterplan and the progress the country has made in boosting its production, in this interview with BusinessDay’s Cynthia Egboboh.

You have been at the helm of affairs at the National Sugar Development Council for about two years; how has the journey been so far?

It has been both challenging and rewarding, considering Nigeria’s quest to attain self-sufficiency in sugar production in the shortest possible time. We are keen on realizing our goals in the sector. It is also an important learning curve for me and members of my team, given the peculiar nature of the sector. I’ve learnt a whole lot and I’m quite pleased with the modest gains we’ve so far recorded in the sugar sector.

I came in with a mind-set to build on what my predecessors had done in the past with regard to all the necessary groundwork relating to policies and programmes toward repositioning the sector. Though we have made some adjustments here and there to help accelerate this quest, which was why one of the things I did upon assumption of office was to meet with relevant stakeholders and visit our zonal offices, including sugar refineries and sugar estates across the country. I assured every stakeholder and interest group that I was ready to work with them and carry everybody along because the task before the Council, which is to revitalise the sector, requires the contributions and commitments of everybody.

In my engagements with operators who are key players in the sector and other stakeholders, I was able to make them pledge their commitments to the implementation of the Nigerian Sugar Master Plan (NSMP) and get serious with their Backward Integration Programme, which is the heart of the NSMP, or stand the risk of being sanctioned.

Given the seriousness, the government attaches to the sector, and in line with its resolve to meaningfully implement the master plan for the allocation of sugar quota to companies, implementing the Backward Integration Programme, (BIP) would be based on their BIP performance, and not based on their refining capacity. Going forward, especially as we roll out plans for phase two of our sugar master plan, sugar quota allocation would be strictly based on performance in the outgoing year. The era where we allocate quotas based on the size of refineries is over. The idea is to ensure that these companies get serious concerning the development of their respective BIP sites.

The Nigerian Sugar Master Plan (NSMP), a 10-year road map policy that seeks to meaningfully revitalise the once vibrant sugar sub-sector and make Nigeria one of the leading sugar-producing nations within the continent, was first initiated in 2012.

What other reforms have you introduced?

One of the key reforms we have introduced is to bring in external resources to support our monitoring. We see monitoring as the key to attaining the objectives of the master plan. It will allow us to truly measure progress and take corrective actions if any player is not meeting their commitments. So, each operator has to submit a quarterly plan and we monitor progress against each milestone. But the wider vision is to deepen the industry and this will involve attracting investments and overcoming some of the constraints.

Already, we are interfacing with the state governments on areas that have been identified as suitable for sugar cultivation to ensure the release of land and provision of infrastructure. These states are Nasarawa, Kwara, Adamawa, Oyo, Niger, Taraba, Ondo, Sokoto and Bauchi. Also, in our drive to ensure that disputes over lands are resolved amicably, we came up with the idea of a forum known as the Forum of Governors of Sugar Producing States which is headed by Abdullahi Sule, the governor of Nasarawa state.

By law, state governors are the landlords across states, hence our resolve to carry them along in our quest to ensure that disputes over lands between host communities and sugar companies are nipped in the bud. We are also working with the Nigeria Ports Authority and the Customs to try and ensure that equipment needed by our operators gets out of the ports in time, avoiding congestion.This is because sugar cultivation is time-sensitive and delays in harvesting can result in losses to our farmers, which can discourage them.

Finally, we are working with the Central Bank to arrange single-digit funding that will support investment in the sector. So, in all, we have put in place all necessary measures in our quest to revamp the nation’s sugar sector. After rice and wheat, the Federal Government considers sugar as the third most important commodity, which prompted the drafting and approval of the National Sugar Master Plan to ensure self-sufficiency in the local production of sugar, ethanol, animal feeds, and an increased capacity in electricity generation, and employment among others.

How will you rate the first phase of the master plan?

The Nigerian Sugar Master Plan (NSMP), a 10-year road map policy that seeks to meaningfully revitalise the once vibrant sugar sub-sector and make Nigeria one of the leading sugar-producing nations within the continent, was first initiated in 2012.

It is an ambitious and well-thought-out policy framework for the sector, which seeks to bring about a complete overhaul to enable Nigeria to become self-sufficient in sugar production, create direct and indirect jobs, generate electricity, become a notable global sugar producer, and produce ethanol for industrial use. I must say that we are quite pleased with the tremendous successes we’ve recorded concerning the refining of imported raw sugar. Nigeria has since met its raw sugar refining capacity, which is commendable.

The successes we have achieved in the area of raw sugar refining must be replicated in our BIP project, which is a major component of the NSMP and can tackle rising unemployment and also address other socio-economic challenges facing the country. We can only celebrate as a sector if we can grow cane and produce raw sugar locally. I know it’s a tough job, but we are more than ready to achieve our target objectives given our commitment and efforts.

Also, within the first 10 years of the NSMP, we have been able to commission a multi-billion dollar sugar factory and estate in Sunti, Niger state, creation of over one million direct and indirect jobs, the takeoff of moribund Nigeria’s foremost sugar company Bacita, Kwara state, and several other landmark feats recorded in the last 10 years in the sugar sector. The sector is now well regulated, the roles of stakeholders are clearly defined, the formulation of enabling laws and policies to aid growth, and heavy reliance on modern technology to drive the process. Also, the icing on the cake for us is the eventual takeoff of the Nigeria Sugar Institute located in Ilorin, Kwara state.

What would you say is the singular greatest challenge against the implementation of the master plan?

Insecurity is a major problem. Also, business activities are sometimes halted due to hitches such as perennial disagreements over land ownership between host communities and operators, communal hostilities, and other associated challenges like financing and infrastructure. But we are doing our best to ensure that operators enjoy a harmonious working relationship with their host communities. As a means of addressing insecurity in sugar-producing communities, no less than 20 percent of the sugarcane grown in any area must be done by the locals to create inclusion and reduce insecurity.

How badly would you say insecurity affected the growth of the sugar industry, especially in the first phase of the sugar master plan?

You would agree with me that Nigeria’s jobless rate almost spiraled out of control between 2016 and 2020 because the economy went through two recessions. Unemployment is a global problem. It is not peculiar to us alone, but we must take serious measures to address it before it becomes an unmanageable issue on our hands.

There is a nexus between unemployment and crime because once people are busy in their workplaces, there is hardly any time for them to plan and execute evil agendas. Insecurity reduces productivity but the good thing is that the Backward Integration Programme, BIP, component of the NSMP can tackle rising unemployment and also address other socio-economic challenges facing the country. BIP sites provide season and off-season jobs for hundreds of Nigerians within and outside their locations. In terms of direct jobs, these sugar estates depend on independent sugarcane out-growers for canes for their factory operations.

Several out-growers are on the payroll of these companies thereby improving the economic well-being of members of the host communities and those from beyond. The sugar sector remains one of the many untapped gold mines in Nigeria, and the sector is now well-positioned to provide direct and indirect jobs for millions of our countrymen and women.