Harvesting sugarcane at Sunti farm in Mokwa, Niger State

To boost the economy through agriculture, President Muhammadu Buhari recently inaugurated the N50 billion Sunti Golden Sugar Estate built by giant food and agro-allied company, Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc in Mokwa, Niger State. Sunday Okobi, who witnessed the landmark event, writes

Sugar is an essential household commodity and a vital raw material for production of other consumables by food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries.

However, despite the huge potential of sugar to the Nigerian economy and the availability of arable lands to cultivate sugarcane (sugar), experts believe that much needs to be done to improve sugar production as well as create employment opportunities in the sugar value chain.

In October 2017, the Director Policy, Planning, Research and Statistics, National Sugar Development Council (NSDC), Mr. Hezekiah Kolawole, said the country had lost at least $600 million foreign exchange annually to the importation of sugar for domestic consumption.

Kolawole argued that Nigeria, with its capacity, is well endowed with the resources in terms of land, water and human capital required to produce sugar in large quantities to not only satisfy its domestic and industrial requirement, but also for export to earn foreign exchange.

Therefore, to underline the current administration’s desire to address these teething challenges in the sub-sector, create employment opportunities and encourage local industries, President Muhammadu Buhari recently inaugurated the N50 billion Sunti Golden Sugar Estate built by a leading food and agro-allied company, Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc (FMN) in Mokwa, Niger State.

The sugar estate, which has 17,000 hectares of arable farmland, has a mill capacity to process 4,500 metric tonnes of sugarcane daily, and at full capacity, the estate is expected to produce one million tonnes of sugarcane.
It was also built to bring infrastructure benefits to surrounding communities, as 28 communities would take advantage of new 30-kilometres expansive road networks that provide a variety of access routes to the homes of the indigenes, with drainage system, culverts and flood-protection walls constructed in the areas to avoid flood and aid easy movement of people and agricultural produce.

Presidential Comments
President Buhari, who was physically present at the inauguration of the FMN sugar project, remarked that the sugar estate was timely as Nigeria gathers economic momentum from the recent recession it just came out from. He expressed delight over the potential of the project, adding that it would boost the economy as well as the government focus on endowments in agriculture and other non-oil sectors for inclusive growth and development.
According to the president, “The level of work and magnitude of investment that we are witnessing here today is a clear demonstration that our policies on economic diversification are on the right path. On that note, I must congratulate the entire members of board, the management and staff of this great company for such a laudable project that will undoubtedly reposition Nigeria as a leading player in the global food market.”

He lauded Flour Mills’ distinctive footprint in Nigerian history since 1960, adding that the agro-allied company and its Golden Penny food brand have become household names, “bringing good food and nourishment to millions of Nigerian families. For over 57 years, the company has repeatedly shown her unwavering commitment to doing business in Nigeria and contributing to the socio-economic development of our dear country.”

Buhari added that the Sunti Golden Sugar Estate is one of the largest agro-allied investments in Nigeria, with a capacity to produce 100,000 metric tonnes of sugar annually.

He admitted that “while we have had some challenges in the implementation of the National Sugar Master Plan (NSMP) in the past, I believe that our vision of attaining self-sufficiency in sugar in Nigeria is well within sight with the kind of investment that has been made here. I am told that the estate will engage up to 10,000 people directly once developed, including a network of over 3,000 small-scale out growers of sugarcane. This to my mind is central to this administration’s determination to create jobs and gainfully engage our people.

“I am happy that projects like the Sunti Sugar Estate are in tandem with the objectives that we set out to achieve when this administration instituted the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). While, our focus is steadfast on delivering on our policy goals of tackling corruption, improving security and rebuilding the economy; more than ever, Government will work in close partnership with businesses to strengthen investments in agriculture, power, manufacturing, solid minerals, and the service sectors.”

Elated Chairman
Describing the inauguration of the Sunti Golden Sugar Estate as a significant milestone in the history of the company, and indeed Nigeria, the Chairman of Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc, Mr. John Coumantaros, noted that the project is the realisation of a strategic investment designed to accelerate the production of sugar, locally, and for the development of the sugar value chain in Nigeria.

Coumantaros, who stated that FMN is poised as the frontrunner of Nigeria’s agricultural revolution, added that “at FMN, it is our belief that gone is the era where our country depends solely on crude oil for foreign exchange, and the importation of food and raw materials. If there ever was a time to shift focus back to agriculture, it is now. Sunti Golden Sugar Estates is a living example of this change.

“As some of you might be aware, FMN has a rich history in Nigeria that dates as far back as the late 50s, when my late father, George Stavros Coumantaros, visited Nigeria for the first time. His love for the country, the passion of her people and the opportunity he saw, led him to stay, and subsequently led to the incorporation of Flour Mills of Nigeria in 1960.

“Today, many years later, FMN has grown tremendously from being a single site flour milling business to a vast group with strategic investments that cover key sectors of the Nigerian economy across the country. Today, FMN is a fully integrated ‘Farm-to-table,’ entity that strategically covers five key food value chains: oils and fats, sweeteners, starches, proteins, and grains,” he added.

He insisted that the company’s sole business is to provide for the livelihoods of millions of Nigerian families “and as such it has become imperative to not just secure our supply chains but to build a business that safeguards our future and adequately covers the nutritional needs of our growing population.
“Our mantra, ‘Feeding the Nation, Everyday’, is at the heart of every strategic decision we make, and leads up to what we produce, how and where we source our raw materials and factories, the level of care we put into our products, how we interact with our consumers, with our host communities and the wider environment.

“Maize and Soybean provide raw material supply to our feeds milling operations in Ibadan, Kaduna, and Calabar; and soon in Gombe and Makurdi. Cassava that we source from Kwara, Edo and Ogun and many other states, provides critical mass for the production of high-quality cassava flour, starch, and our Golden Penny garri.”

The FMN boss noted the impact of the Buhari administration and policies have had on agriculture and manufacturing sectors, stating that the business climate reforms “undertaken under your administration have already begun to bear visible fruit and reflects that Nigeria is creating an enabling environment that will facilitate a private sector-led growth and development.”

Governor’s Input
In his remark, the Niger State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Bello, said the location of the FMN sugar estate was a blessing to the agrarian people of the state “as agriculture has always been a top priority for our state and will always receive our utmost support.”

The governor, who appreciated the president and the FMN management for their commitment to the development and transformation of the agricultural sector of the country, said: “When we declared 2018 as the year of ‘Agricultural revolution,’ in Niger State, it was a reminder to our people of the immense natural resources that we have been blessed with. And that is why a project like the Sunti Sugar Estates is a perfect model for investment in our state.

“From my last visit to Sunti Golden Sugar Estates in 2016 to date, I must say that I am delighted with the level of work and investment that has been put into this project.”
He disclosed that the state is a hub of opportunities and a fertile ground for any discerning investor, highlighting that the state is blessed with numerous natural endowments. “We have the largest land mass in Nigeria – fertile, uncultivated and ready for use for large mechanised farming. We have also a massive body of water resources and solid minerals,” Bello stated.

The governor disclosed that 3,000 hectares out of the 17,000 hectares of land at Sunti had already been planted with sugarcane and ready for harvesting in effort with the inauguration of the sugar mill, adding that once fully operational, the mill, which is one of the only two sugar mills in Nigeria that are capable of producing crystallised sugar from locally grown sugar cane, will mill up to 4,500 metric tonnes of sugarcane per day.
“This is indeed another milestone in the drive to make agriculture attractive to our youth – the Sunti Sugar project will create the much-needed jobs for about 40,000 people in addition to over 10,000 out growers of sugarcane,” Bello added.

Royal Blessings
Also, the traditional ruler of the host community, HRM, the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, give his blessings to the project, and hailed President Buhari’s commitment to revamping the economy through agricultural reforms.
The monarch noted that Nupeland is the base for various kinds of agriculture, saying his people have been cultivating the lands to grow cash crops like rice, sorghum, millet, yam, maize and of course sugarcane for many years. “So, it is quite fitting that a project of this size and relevance to the economy of our country is located here in Mokwa,” he added.

“It gladdens my heart that the Sunti Golden Sugar Estates will provide jobs, improve trade and commerce and considerably uplift the standards of living for our people and the community. When we first got wind of the project, I was happy to rally the people in my kingdom to come out and to support.

“There were some teething challenges at the beginning, but ultimately, our people have come to understand that an industrial size project like this was not intended to disturb their traditions and way of livelihood but to increase the capacity of our farmers, and to generally benefit our communities,” the monarch remarked.