By Amechi Ogbonna
Less than five years after the BUA Group staked over $300 million toward the construction of a sugar refinery, a new city founded and nurtured on sugarcane and its derivatives is springing up in Lafiagi, Edu Local Government Area of Kwara State.
Inside that emerging Sugar City, work has also progressed to between 67 per cent and 100 per cent on all its four components and associated infrastructures, including an airstrip that can host a Boeing aircraft, 235 kilometres of road network, a 7.5 kilometre bypass, housing estate for staff of BUA, educational institutions and health facilities that would serve the communities on whose land the project is sited.
For instance, Daily Sun confirmed during a recent facility tour of the project that BUA Group’s ethanol plant, a critical arm of the city, has already attained 100 per cent completion, while the mill and refinery were at 67 per cent completion.
With the machines already being installed by original equipment manufacturers and suppliers from Germany, Daily Sun learnt that only about 33 per cent of civil engineering works is being executed.
Presently, the BUA Group has two ultra-modern and automated mega sugar refineries. In response to Nigeria’s backward BIP in the sugar industry, BUA said it invested in large-scale estates within the country to deepen local sugar production through the acquisition of the Lafiagi Sugar Company Limited (LASUCO) in Kwara State and also the establishment of the Bassa Sugar Company in Kogi State.
The senior general manager, LASUCO, a subsidiary of the BUA Group, Mr. Abdulrasheed Olayiwola, said: “We’re developing a new city for sugar in Lafiagi, just as you have a fully developed sugar city in Zambia.
“We are doing so because it is always better to refine where you have a plantation because sugar importation is a foreign exchange guzzler and whoever is not investing in refinery has no intention of stopping importation.”
On completion, the sugar factory and plantation will provide about 5,000 direct jobs with over 10,000 indirect employments for Nigerians
Olayiwola described the project as the fastest-growing BIP in the country’s sugar sector.
He added: “We took over Lafiagi plantation formally in 2014 and the project started in 2016. Since then, there has been no going back. This is the fastest-growing BIP project in the country at the moment. Lafiagi is divided into two areas: the plantation development and the infrastructure development.
“For the plantation, we have a lot of fields to be developed, and a minimum of 15,000 hectares would be under cane plantation.
“At the time we took over, what was attached to the sugar plant was just 5,000 hectares, but because BUA really has the intention of producing sugar in the country, we had to go for more land and we were able to get 20,000 hectares and the soil composition is very good for sugarcane production.”
According to him, the project is an integrated factory, which will be four factories in one.
“This is a Greenfield project, which we started from scratch. We’re building a mill – a 10,000 tcd (tonnes of cane per day) mill. That is the highest capacity in the country at the moment and we are building an ethanol plant – because, as we speak, none of the sugar plants in the country has an ethanol plant. We are not stopping at the mill because it is brown sugar you see, but we are migrating to a refinery; we are going to refine the sugar. So, we have the refinery under construction at the moment.
“In addition, we are building a power plant of 35 megawatts of which about 20MW will be injected into the national grid to serve our host communities, among others”
“So, in a way, BUA Group, with this plantation, is contributing to different sectors of the economy,” he further explained.
Already, almost 7,000 hectares of the plantation have been cleared and are being developed for planting, while close to 2,000 hectares of land have been cultivated. LASUCO has a special nursery, where different varieties of cane are tested. It is situated on about 17 hectares of land.
Head of project at LASUCO, Mr. Labaran Saidu, added that, besides the plantation, which is the main attraction, BUA Group had embarked on aggressive infrastructure development in its host communities, even as he listed some of the corporate social responsibility projects being undertaken in Lafiagi.
“We have over 20 varieties of sugarcane here at Lafiagi, developed from our germ plasm, being tested presently. The idea is to know the variant that is best suited for commercial propagation,” he said.
Saidu added that the Lafiaji factory was one of the sugar production sites highly rated by the National Sugar Council, which is constantly visiting the project to use it to drive the national sugar master plan.
He said: “If you talk to anybody in the Sugar Council today, they will tell you that Lafiagi is the key BIP project that they are looking up to. Look at the array of products that will be coming out from that factory, none of the sugar plantations in existence before this came on board comes near it.
“Others are either producing 3,500 tonnes per day, or 3,000 tonnes per day and it is brown sugar. None is up to 10,000 tonnes of cane per day.
“Every quarter, the council’s team comes here to check the progress of work and they always leave the site satisfied that BUA is on course.”
This also confirms what chairman/chief executive officer, BUA Group of Companies, Alhaji Abdulsamad Rabiu, recently said, that the sugar mill and refinery project situated in Edu LGA of Kwara State, “is one of the most advanced anywhere in the world.”
He added that, “instead of importing raw sugar and processing it in Nigeria, we decided to establish sugar plantations and refinery locally and Kwara State happens to be the best located state for the investment.”
According to him, the Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq, had pledged the state’s support to the project.
The governor, who commended the BUA Group for siting the sugar plant in Lafiagi, observed that the facility would make the local government the richest in the North-Central.
He said, “BUA today is the biggest investor in north-central Nigeria and we are happy that that investment is in Kwara State. I am in fact happy that it is in Lafiagi, Edu Local Government Area.”
He said the plant would produce about 25 per cent of Nigeria’s sugar needs when fully operational next year and will meet 75 per cent of the country’s sugar needs over the next 10 years.
“Kwara wants to be the epicentre of sugar production in Nigeria and we are creating a peaceful environment for business to thrive,” AbdulRazaq said.
He added that such investments would cut poverty rate and strengthen Kwara’s capacity to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, since the issues of water and electricity would be tackled once the factory begins operation.
Since taking over the facility, the BUA Group has been taking steps to bring about infrastructural development in the location. For instance, the company has constructed an airstrip at the site to ease the movement of goods and persons, in addition to an estate and staff quarters for its workers and other personnel working on the site. The entire road network under construction at the site is about 235 kilometres.
Indeed, considering that sugarcane plantations require a lot of water, BUA is constructing 20 kilometres of canals to bring water from both sides the River Niger.
It was against this backdrop that BUA Group, last year signed, an agreement with Netafim of Israel, the global leaders in irrigation and water technology, to construct a drip and sprinkler irrigation scheme with water from the River Niger. This irrigation facility and about 20MW of its 35MW of captive power would be available to both its 5,000 out-growers to water their plantations, while about 20MW of power will be put into the national grid to provide uninterrupted power to the host community in Lafiagi ahead of the project commencement in 2022.
In addition, the company intends to construct over 200 housing units, even as healthcare facilities, a clinic and school are under construction. It also has a laboratory where all the varieties of sugarcane are tested daily as well as a research and development centre inside the factory, in demonstration of its seriousness in realising the Federal Government’s BIP.
As part of efforts to empower rural dwellers in the community, LASUCO supported a programme for out-growers on 5,000 hectares of land.
Olayiwola said: “With the ongoing road construction, we have connected more than 15 communities and we are still building more. In addition, as part of our CSR, a lot of the communities are close to the River Niger and as such they are always faced with the challenge of flooding, and BUA has been intervening to address this challenge. We also make sure, during Ramadan, gifts are shared to all the communities in the local government. It is something we started in 2016, and we have been consistent with it.
“We recently did some renovation at the NYSC camp, as part of CSR, to support the state. At the state level, we have done a lot in supporting sporting activities and youth empowerment.
“BUA is constructing a 7.5-kilometre dual carriageway and a bypass to ease the movement of goods from the farm to town. The BUA Foundation is also working on several other intervention projects.”