Sugarcane business a money spot for farmers

What you need to know:

  • Despite massive financing in the production of sugar, Tanzania is still faced with huge demand, calling for more investment in the sector.

Dar es Salaam. Sugarcane growers are likely to reap big in the sector due to the expansion of the market for their produce given the fact that sugar makers are doubling production.
Literature shows that outgrowers who are ready to invest accordingly in the cultivation of sugarcane can reap big, considering that a two-acre farm is likely to fetch a farmer some Sh4.5 million.
Hence, increased outgrower involvement in the cultivation of sugarcane can respond well to the huge domestic  demand for the produce for both consumption and industrial use. 
This move could also mean the creation of employment for the majority of women and youth in the value chain that stretches from agricultural production, sugar manufacturing and trading of the commodity.

Sugar Board of Tanzania (SBT) director general Kenneth Bengesi told The Citizen that Tanzanians looking forward to efficient income generation should join the sugar sector.
He said the Sh570 billion expansion obligation carried out by the Kilombero Sugar Company requires more sugarcane to meet its new demand.
“This is a big opportunity for the youth because the company doesn’t have ample land for expanding sugarcane cultivation as the requirement is slated to increase from 1.2 million tonnes to 2.5 million tonnes,” Prof Bengesi said in a telephone interview.

“Therefore, the youth should position themselves well and tap the opportunity,” he added.
He said sugarcane growers generated Sh94.7 billion in the season ending June 30, this year from sugarcane trade, an increase from Sh35 billion recorded in 10 years ago.
He stressed that the industry has a huge potential contribution to job creation not only in sugarcane production, but also, sugar production in factories and value chains in areas of transportation, harvesting, wholesalers, outlets, retailers, food vending, and several others.
“With industrial sugar into consideration, employment opportunities are broadened to the beverage industry in production of carbonated drinks, juices, pharmaceutical industries in production of syrups, some of the tablets, and confectioneries,” he said.
“The survival of these factories depends on the availability of sugar, without which all of them could close their businesses,” he added.
Prof Bengesi was supported by the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute’s (Tari) manager of the Kibaha Centre, Dr Nessie Luambano, who said engagement in sugarcane cultivation was a huge opportunity due to the reliability of the crop’s market.
“Through their Agriculture Marketing Cooperative Unions (AMCOs), farmers usually sign contract agreements with sugar factories to purchase all cultivated sugarcane, therefore assuring them of a reliable market and income,” she said.
Dr Luambano said sugarcane growers are only required to make significant investment in the sector in order to reap big from the lucrative subsector.
She insisted that unlike farmers who produce other crops, sugarcane growers are assured of better prices, calling on Tanzanians, specifically the youth, to actively engage in sugarcane production.

Similar sentiments were echoed by the National Sugarcane Coordinator, Ms Minza Masunga, who said farmers stood a better chance to benefit from sugarcane provided they abided by the centres’ research findings.
“Kilombero Sugar is overwhelmed. Therefore, the expansion project is a huge opportunity for citizens; hence, the majority are now shifting from rice to sugarcane farming,” she said.
Furthermore, she said unlike other crops, sugarcane farmers could benefit for the next 10 years after investing in the first year, noting that what they would be required to do is incur low costs to continue harvesting sugarcane and increase income.

The sugar sub sector at glance

Prof Bengesi said currently, Tanzania’s sugar deficit ranges between 40,000 and 55,000 tonnes, noting that farmers trade their sugarcane depending on the sucrose content. According to him, there are others who trade the crop in tonnes regardless of the quality of the sugarcane.
“The price of sugarcane traded based on the sucrose content ranges between Sh100,000 and Sh120,000. Those sold in tonnes range in price from Sh57,000 to Sh70,000, respectively,” he said. He said Tanzania cane farmers produced four million tonnes last season, noting that 10 tonnes of sugarcane produce one tonne of brown sugar.
“From the four million tonnes of sugarcane produced last season, Tanzania was supposed to produce 400,000 tonnes of brown sugar. However, variation in the quality of sugarcane enabled us to produce 380,000 tonnes,” he said, further adding, the country will close the sugar deficit gap and make sugar shortage history by the year 2025, mentioning the expansion of the Kilombero Sugar Company among the government measures.
According to him, different measures are also taken in other factories like Mtibwa, Kagera, and the TPC Sugar Cogeneration Plant, while the Bagamoyo Sugar Company has commenced production, and the Mkulazi Sugar Company is slated to start production early next year.
Furthermore, he said the projects in the Rufiji River Basin and Kigoma Region were at the construction stage.
“By 2025, Tanzania will only be importing industrial sugar. “We have been advocating for and attracting investors to come and invest in the production of industrial sugar,” he said.
“However, no serious investor has shown interest, probably because a huge investment is required to produce industrial sugar, while a small investment could enable them to produce brown sugar, which is highly demanded in the local market,” he added.

He hinted at some of the costs as being $80 million for the installation of a refinery for the purification and crystallisation of the merchandise in order to meet industrial demands. Furthermore, he said, with the realisation that the country’s sugar demand will reach 2025, the country will export the surplus or convert it into industrial sugar for local and foreign consumption.

Sugarcane seeds research

Ms Masunga said sugarcane seed research is among the functions of the center in Kibaha, noting that 13 varieties have been produced. “Six seeds entered the market in January this year, out of 13 that had been successfully accredited by the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (Tosci) and received the Agriculture Minister’s approval,” said Ms Masunga.
She said produced seeds will be distributed to farmers and are expected to increase production efficiency by at least 50 percent from the previous 45 tonnes per hectare to over 80 tonnes per hectare. 
According to her, the six drought-resistant seed varieties include Tarisca 1, Tarisca 2, N 47, R570, NCo 379, and CO 617 (rainfed varieties). 
While Tarisca 1, Tarisca 2, N 47, and R 570 were on Jan this year, including NCo 379 cultivated by farmers in the eastern zone ( Mtibwa and Kilombero) with CO 617 issued to farmers in Kagera. Other varieties that were released for irrigation are N36, R 85/1334, R579, N25, R575 and N41.

Sugarcane infrastructure research

Ms Masunga said the centre is also responsible for analysing the type of soil and providing farmers with fertiliser recommendations.

Pests, diseases, and worms control research

According to Ms Masunga, Ratoon Stunting Disease (RSD) and Sugarcane Smut are the major diseases affecting sugarcane yield reduction at 50 percent and 30 percent respectively.

She said the two diseases are systemic and could be controlled through hot water treatment recommended to be carried out by a competent person approved by the SBT.

Sh1.8bn government commitment

In the government’s efforts to ensure that produced seeds are distributed to the majority of cane farmers, Ms Masunga said the government, through Agriculture Minister Hussein Bashe has committed to provide Sh1.8 billion annually in three seasons from the 2022/23 fiscal year. “The commitment aims at increasing sugarcane production to meet the new demand of the Kilombero Sugar Company which is under an expansion programme,” she said.

Challenges facing cane farmers

According to the national sugarcane coordinator, challenges facing cane farmers include, the negative impacts of climate change, inadequate agricultural inputs, available bogus agriculture inputs in the market and lack of capital

“While the centre is now focused on smart agriculture, the government’s decision to provide subsidised fertiliser starting this season is commendable. Financial institutions should provide timely loans that will enable farmers to carry out their activities in respective seasons,” she said.

For her part, Dr Luambano said the centre was also facing challenges of poor access to funding especially from foreign institutions, as a result, they rely on funds from the government and Sugar Industry Development Fund, something which adversely affects their operations, especially provision of technical assistance to farmers.