Nigeria can resolve its energy crisis if, like some countries, tap into the potentialities embedded in sugarcane, writes CALEB ONWE
Sugarcane, known by different names across Nigeria, is said to belong to the grass family (Poaceae). In the northern part of the country where there is large scale cultivation of sugarcane, it is called “Rake,” the Yoruba know it as “Ireke” while some parts of Igbo call it “Achara.”
A research work produced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that sugarcane first originated in the New Guinea and later was distributed all over the world. It also revealed that the scientific name of sugarcane is Saccharum officinarum.
Though it is mostly grown in the northern part of Nigeria, its incredible sweetness is savoured across the country by people of all class. It is available at a very cheap price for everyone who wishes to partake in its beneficial properties.
Research also shows that sugarcane is commercially grown in many countries including South Asia, Southeast Asia, Brazil, Latin America, etc. Sugarcane juice is one of the most common drinking juices.
Sugarcane is said to contain combination of sugars like the glucose, sucrose and fructose.
Findings show that while many countries have started reaping the enormous economic benefits embedded in sugarcane, Nigeria, with vast arable land suitable for the plantation of sugarcane, is yet to realise its potential in that sector.
Sugarcane farmers are in the sub-tropical and tropical regions in the country where sugarcane is said to be most suitable. Findings also revealed that states like, Kwara, Niger, Nasarawa, Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa, Taraba, Katsina and Sokoto have comparative advantage in sugarcane production.
A sugarcane farmer, Adams Usman, a native of Kaduna State, but residing in Bwari Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), has been planting sugarcane in a small swamped area, though the plantation is sizable, he confirmed he had made great fortune from it.
Walking with him through the bushy waterlogged track leading to the plantation and looking at the yet to mature stems of sugarcane, one could see unfulfilled dreams of this farmer, who desires to become a mega sugarcane farmer, but has remained a peasant one for too long.
Usman stated that his desire to expand the farm has led him to the Bank of Agriculture, but could not realise his dreams, as the bank only approved the N100,000, which was not sufficient for what he wanted.
He revealed that from the plantation he makes an average of N50,000 annually after cost of inputs.
Usman usually hires up to five labourers to plant and also to weed the overgrown grasses.
During harvesting, he uses off-takers who are willing to cut the sugarcane directly from the farm, but must be supervised to ensure that no damage is done.
Chief Sugarcane Breeder and Director, Information and Documentation, at National Cereals Research Institute, Badeggi, Dr. Mohammed Ishaq, revealed that there were chewable and industrial types of sugarcane.
He said the chewable type had more water and easily peeled, while the industrial sugarcane was hard to peel and is better crushed with machine to extract the juice.
Some reports have it that Nigeria has the potential to generate up to N2.5 trillion annually from sugarcane, when fully developed and turned to finished products. Nigeria is said to be producing about 1.7 metric tonnes of sugar, a by-product of sugarcane.
When Ishaq said the sugarcane industry was a goldmine which Nigeria could mine, but neglected, he was undoubtedly making allusion to empirical evidence which well-articulated research findings have established.
Several researches have revealed that the growing concerns about the dwindling fortune of Nigeria’s oil and gas, especially in the global market index can actually be ameliorated with deliberate focus on the development of other sectors of the economy, including the sugarcane industry.
On the process of planting sugarcane, Ishaq said: “For the sugarcane to survive, a farmer has to split the stem into foot long pieces, dig a furrow and then dip the stem into the ground.”
He also explained that sugarcane was better planted in the northern Nigeria than in the southern part. This, he said, was due to less rainfall and more sunshine in the North.
According to him, the development of the sugarcane industry is capable of up scaling the economic growth, and this can be possible by deliberately harnessing both the health and nutritional values embedded in sugarcane.
According to USDA findings, some of the nutritional and health benefits of sugarcane include; “increases muscle power, strengthens major body organs. It assists, to a great level, in strengthening the major organs such as the eyes, stomach, heart, kidneys, mind, sex organs, etc, if used regularly.
“It helps women who are trying to conceive can indulge in having a glass of sugarcane juice daily because of its high folic acid content. It rehydrates body and quenches thirst by rehydrating the body thus known as the instant body booster and used by athletes. It treats fever. It is useful for a person suffering from fever and prevents protein loss in the body. It treats jaundice
“Sugarcane juice is very helpful in the treatment of jaundice; it provides instant recovery from jaundice by maintaining the glucose level in the body. It is a remedy for sore throat. Sugarcane juice is considered as the best home remedy for treating sore throat and flu.
“Regulates digestive system functioning. It is a very good energy drink for the well-being of the digestive system. It treats constipation. Sugarcane provides help in treating constipation due to its high potassium level. It promotes wound healing.
“It prevents heart diseases and strokes as it decreases the bad body cholesterol level and triglycerides.
“Sugarcane treats various diseases. Sugarcane juice helps in treating dysuria (burning sensation while passing urine), prostatitis, kidney stones, STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), urinary tract infections, etc, if taken with lime juice or coconut water.
“Sugarcane juice is alkaline in nature. It helps in fighting various types of cancer like prostate and breast cancer.
“It promotes bone growth. Sugarcane juice is helpful in the growth and development of the bones because of its calcium and phosphorous contents.
“It prevents anaemia. Sugar is very useful for persons suffering from anaemia as it has good amount of iron which enhances the Hb level in the body.
“It is a rich source of antioxidants. Sugarcane juice has an antioxidant property because of its flavonoid and phenolic compounds availability which works as an anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-allergic, anti-tumour agents and prevents body from various diseases accordingly.”
A nutritionist, Mrs. Elizabeth Okemdi, also confirmed that sugarcane cures some illnesses.
Okemdi, who works with a private healthcare organisation in Abuja, disclosed that while she had not done an extensive research to determine the whole values of sugarcane, she had the opportunity of interacting with several individuals who had attested to the medicinal values found in sugarcane juice.
According to her, sugarcane juice can be helpful in strengthening the liver and can also serve as a potentremedy for jaundice.
“Jaundice is a condition where you find yellow pigmentation of the skin and membrane due to elevated levels of a substance known as bilirubin in the bodily fluids and is triggered by poor functioning liver. What sugarcane juice does is replenish your body with proteins lost and nutrients that it needs to recover quickly,” she said.
She also confirmed a research report which suggested that another important health benefit of sugarcane juice is that: “It is rich in good kind of carbohydrates, protein, iron, potassium and other essential nutrients that make it the ideal energy drink. Especially in the summer months, a glass of cold sugarcane juice lifts both your health and your depleting levels of energy. It builds up plasma and body fluids and helps counter dryness and fatigue.”
Ishaq, like many other experts, posited that if all relevant subsectors of the economy which had something to with sugarcane are given attention, and Nigeria could diligently begin to tap into its potential, the thought of losing global relevance without the ‘oil power’, would be foregone.
Stakeholders also said that the over N200 billion which the country spends annually importing both raw and processed sugar can be deployed into infrastructural development and other facilities that would bring Nigeria at par with other developed nations of the world.
Researches have also shown that apart from manning the gold in the cane by harnessing both health and nutritional values of sugarcane for national development, Nigeria’s quest for sustainable energy could also tap into the huge potential in the sugarcane.
In a report credited to the Director of Policy, Planning, Research and Strategies at National Sugar Development Council, Mr. Hezekiah Kolawole, said that sugarcane could be exploited to generate electricity.
For example in Brazil, sugarcane is being used for electricity. It is one of the alternative power-generating means of the South American country noted mostly for its citizens’ prowess in football but sugarcane has helped to raise the country’s economy to the elite class in the world.
In 2015, sugarcane mills supplied more than 20,000 GWh for Brazil’s electricity requirements. Sugarcane, in growth, converts sunlight into chemical energy which is stored inside the plant. Each of the main plant components contains approximately one-third of this stored energy
Kolawole said: “Sugarcane is not only used for the production of sugar and fuel ethanol but can also be used for the generation of electricity and in the production of a host of other derivatives including food preservatives and seasoning, as well as industrial chemicals used in the pharmaceutical, leather and other industries.
“The government should adopt sugarcane as a raw material for the generation of electricity and production of industrial goods, which would have gone a long way in solving the problem of shortage of power supply in the country.’’
Experts said that since sugarcane could be used as a raw material for electricity generation, both the private sector and government could create the required synergy that would lead to its development.
It was also said that the full potential of Small and Medium Enterprises could be further developed with an increased attention to the sugarcane industry.
Their argument is predicated on the fact that the number of farmers of sugarcane and small businesses which involve sugarcane would practically grow.
New Telegraph’s correspondent spoke with some farmers and sellers of sugarcane at various locations both within the FCT and in the nearby Nasarawa State, the findings were quite revealing and lend credence to the amazing benefits of sugarcane.
The encounter also further established the fact that the sugarcane industry is a goldmine which Nigeria has blatantly refused to explore.
Patricia James is a juice seller in one of the popular gardens at Area 8, Garki, Abuja. According to her, very important personalities come to book for the sugarcane juice in her cafeteria.
James, who said she had been in the business for just six months, noted that during the season of sugarcane, other fruit juices were usually sold on a low scale because “more people go for sugarcane juice”.
She said: “Since I started working here, people who come here to place orders for sugarcane juice don’t look like poor people. We sell 75cl for N1,000 and during the season like now, we sell more of sugarcane juice. People said it cures many sicknesses, but that I don’t know, because I am not a medical expert.”
Mrs. Gloria Umar, like many other sellers of sugarcane in Abuja, does not care to know the origin of the ‘cane’ that ironically is producing unbelievable sweetness and nutritional values and even financial empowerment.
All she cares to know about and also ready at all times to discuss is how to enhance the prospect and the sweetness from the cane that has helped to lubricate her family’s economic wheels over the years.
The middle-aged woman is not only proud to be called a sugarcane seller, but wants to tell people about the unbelievable transformation which the sugarcane business has done to her life and her family’s welfare.
This correspondent’s encounter with her and some of the sellers of sugarcane in the FCT revealed not just the secret behind the periodic boom of sugarcane business, but the hidden nutritional values in its juice.
Though they may not understand its botanical history, they are ever ready to announce that sugarcane is “good for the body and gives us good money”.
Gloria Umar, who has a depot where trucks off load bundles of sugarcane almost every week, at Kuruduma village, Guzape District, was so proud to announce that she is not just a petty seller of sugarcane, but a major off-taker.
Umar, who hails from Kaduna State but lives in Abuja, is proud to say that she buys a hectare of land in Kafanchan where sugarcane farmers have considerable large plantation. According to her, once the sugarcane matures in the farm, all she does is to get labourers who help to harvest it for her.
Even though she couldn’t give the exact size of the plantation she usually buys, she noted that she usually pays up to N400,000 to buy a large plantation which she harvests up to three times.
According to her, in each harvest, up to 200 bundles of 10 canes are realised, and when sold she gets up to N300,000 from each trip. She said that each bundle of 10 is sold for N1,500 to retailers who come to her depot to buy.
She said: “I bring the sugarcane from Kafanchan Kaduna State. I used to buy a plantation of sugarcane in hectare, and harvest it in bits.
“When I harvest 200 bundles of 10, which I sell for N1,500, I get up to N300,000. The 200 bundle is gotten from less than half of the plantation.
“When I harvest the whole hectare and sell, I make more than N200,000 profit after all the expenses which include transportation.
“This business is, however, a periodic one. I have built houses from this business within the few years I have been into it. With this business, I am helping my family and the family’s economic fortune has improved.
“They say sugarcane cures hepatitis. In the hospital, patients who have certain ailments are always advised to take sugarcane juice. I want the government to help me with funds to enable me expand the business, to help me take the sugarcane to other parts of the country.”
Baba Inua Jubril is a local sugarcane farmer in Doma community of Nasarawa State. He said he inherited the plantation from his parents and had sustained his immediate family with the proceeds of sugarcane business for over 20 years.
Jubril, with the help of an interpreter, disclosed that he makes up to N600,000 from his sugarcane plantation annually after all the necessary expenditures.
He could not give the size of his plantation, but his description suggests that he has a large expanse of land which he has all these years used in growing sugarcane.
An off-taker of sugarcane, Malam Idris Zakari, was more concerned about the loss of business which the small holder farmers and sellers of sugarcane may suffer, with the coming on board of the proposed Dangote sugar factory in the area.
Zakari said that many people like him might lose their means of livelihood once the Dangote sugarcane factory commences operations.
New Telegraph findings revealed that some of the factors frustrating efforts of sugarcane farmers include their inability to apply necessary farm input as well as the sole dependence on rain for irrigation and high cost of starting Capital.
Sugarcane farmers are also limited by lack of technology, knowledge and facilities on proper preparation techniques and methods.
Stakeholders, who agreed that sugarcane industry is a goldmine waiting to be exploited in Nigeria, have also suggested a template which, according to them, could make the dream of developing the sector a reality.
An agro merchant, Bulus Ndagi, noted that while over 800,000 hectares of land along the rivers Niger and Benue awaits investors who wish to tap into the potential of sugarcane, the government must muster enough political will to create an enabling environment for the industry to develop and thrive.
He said: “Cultivation of sugarcane was relegated to the background due to the poor performance of government-owned sugar companies which were privatised in 2002.
It has unequivocally been established that the sugarcane industry can cover so much economic gap in Nigeria, but what remains in doubt is the preparedness of both the government and the private sector to recognise it as an abandoned goldmine and take steps to explore it.
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