Dr. Latif Demola Busari is the Executive Secretary of the National Sugar Development Council, a body responsible for the regulation of all activities in the sugar industry. He spoke to Jonathan Eze on the industry and expressed optimism that Nigeria can achieve self-sufficiency in sugar production in the near future
Recently, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, said he is impressed with your activities in the National Sugar Development Council (NSDC). Please tell us some of the brilliant policies you have introduced that is capable of turning the fortunes of the nation’s sugar industries around?
I don’t think we have done too fantastic a job. I think it is just that the minister saw the commitment to achieve our mandate. So even if you haven’t gotten there, your boss or the people looking at you want to see that even though there are challenges being faced by you, but the attitude towards resolving those challenges is what impresses them and they know that if you can keep at it like that, eventually you will succeed. It is different from somebody who has similar challenges but has a nonchalant attitude towards it. Just like we are doing in Nigeria, we have challenges but our leaders are trying to find solutions and that keeps the people happy.
I have read about the Nigeria Sugar Master Plan(NSMP). What does it intend to achieve? Please shed more light on it.
The Master Plan was the road map that was adopted by the federal government in 2012 as what would lead us to the achievement of self-sufficiency in sugar.
It has four objectives: To improve the level of sugar production locally until we are able to achieve self-sufficiency in sugar production; To reduce our over dependence on sugar importation; To create job for Nigerians; To generate electricity and also produce ethanol. So, through the sugar master plan, we want to target increasing sugar production. Today, Nigeria is depending on imported ethanol for all our needs. These are the four basic objectives and it is a 10 year journey. We started in 2013 and we hope that by 2023 we would reach the target of increasing sugar production.
What are the things we hope to achieve by 2023?
By then, we should be able to produce about 1.8million metric tonnes of sugar annually which is estimated to be our demand by 2020. The master plan was developed in 2010 and it took us two years to get stakeholders buying into the implementation. Without those stakeholders buying in, we wouldn’t have gotten far at all. It took us two years so that all our stakeholders would join us in the journey.
By 2023, we would have been able to produce 1.7 and 1.8million metric tonnes of sugar annually. We will be able to generate ethanol, generate about 400megawatts of electricity, create 117,000 jobs for both skilled and unskilled labour and save Nigeria about 600 million that we spend annually on sugar importation. Also, if we are able to enact a blending mandate, where you mix ethanol with gasoline to use as automotive fuel(Obasanjo started the ETM mandate) that is we mix 10 per cent of ethanol with gasoline and if you are able to do that, since we depend on imported gasoline right now, we would also save that 10 per cent. We estimated it to be about 50 million dollars. To be able to achieve all these, we would need about 250hectares of land under cultivation. We need to employ people. These are the basic key ingredients, and how do we get this done especially when government is not going to put a kobo and that’s actually the main challenge for us. We are going to depend on private sector to put their money down. So the only way we could do it is to provide some incentives that would get them to come.
Don’t forget we are dealing with a sector where if you have all your fund and technical expertise ready, they are not going to start looking for you. And if you have your land ready, it will still take about five to six years from day one that you start.
What are the challenges confronting the Council and the sugar sub-sector?
There are many challenges. For example, when you already have funds, you have the technical expertise and you have the land, it will take you five to six years that you would keep on spending money before you can see a grain of sugar come out and then you begin to sell and probably your money is most likely going to be a loan. So, you start paying back the loan so before you say this is your own money, it will be about ten years. How many investors are willing to go into that kind of sector? When you can buy federal government bonds and go to bed or you can even trade. Buy something, sell and make money so few investors want to go into that kind of sector. It is capital intensive. It has long gestation period and is fraught with agricultural risks. Because if you plant your sugarcane and flood clears it, that is the end of it for the year.
You mentioned something very fascinating about sugar being used to generate electricity. How does this work? Can you expatiate on it?
When the juice is extracted out of sugarcane, what is left is the fibre. In the industry, we call it bagas. All industries have boilers for production process. In the sugar industry, we use bagas to fire the boilers for steam generation. You need steam in most industries for most industrial processes. The difference is that in the sugar industry, that steam can be channelled or piped into steam turbines to generate electricity. They use this electricity first for their own use in the factory and on the field, whatever that’s left is now given to the people as part of the benefit that accrue to the community. They may even sell it to national grid if it is much more than they need. Every sugar industry all over the world generate electricity and depending on the quantity they produce, it is for their own use and then their communities.
The federal government has recently signed some executive bills on the Ease of Doing Business. Before now, do you think it was difficult to do business in Nigeria?
The first executive bill is about the ease of doing business and because fortunately, we are not in the business of granting approvals or licenses so people are not queuing up waiting for license. The only thing we give is quota and it is not even in our hands. It is in Mr. President’s hands. We don’t have problems like Customs or Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) would have. We are one of the revenue generating agencies and are captured under the fiscal responsibility act so executive order no four affects us in terms of government needs money and you have to bring money into the coffers. I believe that we are doing well, delivering the little services to the public. We deal with people .
Can Nigerians really produce the sugar they consume without relying on imports?
That is our major mandate. Our mandate is not with the consuming public as such. It is more with the investors that would be able to do that production and fulfill that mandate. It’s for them to tell us the projects they would be investing in. They gave us a list of projects before that we are following through. It contains some of the earlier ones too but it is just that they are recommitting them. Dangote is now going to do the expansion of savannah. He is going to have two new field projects, one in Lay and one in Tunga. They just rounded off the one in Sunti and they asked us to look for land for them because they are proposing another one. BUA too has its own in Lafiagi. So we have a total of eight projects now. So it is a mixture of the old and new and we are re-implementing them.
People are being advised to reduce sugar consumption because of the attendant health risks. Has this affected the level of sugar demand and production?
There is a lot of de-marketing for sugar. All of us are feeling it. Sugar doesn’t cause diabetes. You can confirm from medical people. It is a failure of your metabolism and when you take sugar in excess, it will aggravate it. If you have insulin that works, it will metabolise the sugar. If you don’t have sugar for a minute, you die. It is the basic unit of energy that powers our metabolism. If your brain lacks sugar for a second, you are brain dead. But of course, everything you take in excess is wrong. Basically everything you eat is sugar. For example, pounded yam, rice. All these food, the body stores it in form of sugar. They say one can of coke contains 10 cubes of sugar. There are a lot of sugars out there but we have to be moderate. However, over 82 per cent of the sugar goes to industries. Just 18 per cent is consumed by people. The industries are the major users of sugar e g the chocolate and beverage industries. If you follow everything the doctors say, you won’t eat.
The country just came out of recession, what do you think can be done to sustain the present economic progress?
Something led us into it and something must bring us out of it. If our luck stays and crude oil goes up a bit, it will be good. Our Minister of State for Trade was able to get OPEC to come down on daily production. All of us Nigerians need to ensure that the little we have is spent judiciously. When government keeps doing what it does, we will consolidate on the growth already recorded. But even when we were not in recession, we have had billionaires and other people on the lower rung of the ladder. So how do we bridge the gap to bring this people up to let them feel the impact?
Lastly, who is Latif Busari?
I am just a poor civil servant trying to do the little I can do.