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Ethiopia’s mushrooming sugar factories a bird’s eye view

Abraham D.
Tigrai Online, Ethiopian News, April 20, 2016

Ethiopia’s mushrooming sugar factories- a bird’s eye view

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According to a research made by the Ethiopian Investment Agency in 2012, Ethiopia is endowed with large area of suitable lowlands, rivers and conducive climate for sugarcane growth. It indicates 303, 500 hectares of land is identified as suitable for sugar cane production in seven sites.

By then, only 8 percent of the identified potential areas were tapped. The Awash, Blue Nile, Tekeze, Omo, Gibe and Baro basins are among the identified areas that can engage private investors and the government. 

The Beles River, one of the tributaries of the Blue Nile basin, is being used for sugar cane growth in tandem with the Tana Beles Multi-purpose Project, which is generating hydro-electric power and to produce sugar. It is one of the ten sugar development projects planned to be undertaken by the government during the first Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP I) period.

The government, during the GTP I Period, planned the sugar production to reach 2.25 million from 315 thousand tones five years ago. The Ethiopian Sugar Corporation was established in 2011 to oversee the process and make the goals a reality.

The Ethiopian government is at present aggressively constructing new sugar processing factories, refurbishing the old factories and working widely on expansion of land development for sugar-cane cultivation. Actually, these factories are a part of government's zeal to boost the national sugar production and satisfy the local demand of sugar. It also aims to make this industry to become one option for export to different offshore markets.

The Tana Beles Integrated Sugar Development Project, which was started in 2010, is well underway over 75 hectares of land both in Amhara and Benishangul Gumuz regions. It is scheduled to cost 31 billion birr and inculcates the building of three sugar factories each with a crushing capacity of 12 thousand tons of cane per day.

According to the information obtained from Public Relation Office of the Project, the construction of the first two factories is being undertaken as scheduled. The Metal and Engineering Corporation (METEC), domestic public firm, is responsible for the construction of the factories.

About 4280 households were resettled during the preparation of the land for the project and close to 20 thousand people are now living in their new abodes established by the project in four selected areas. The project Office has supplied the necessary support for the resettlement program.

It has constructed 156 kilometers long asphalted road to one of the newly established villages. Educational, health and other basic infrastructures are also part of the project’s ventures under the resettlement program, as the Project Office Public relation Department indicated.

The construction of two factories is being underway at the same time and a cornerstone is laid for the third at a place not far from the site where the two are situated.  Reaching their full capacity, each sugar factories will have a capacity of producing 242,000 tons of sugar and 20,827 meter cube ethanol per year.

The project has created job opportunities for more than 15 thousand people from the outset and it also has contributed a lot for the development of the area in various ways. The three factories are expected to produce 21.7 thousand tons of sugar per year.

Construction of the two factories is planned to be accomplished during the GTP II period and the third shall commence after them. According to the information obtained from the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation the first factory is expected to be finalized and start trial-level production next year.

The Tendaho Sugar Factory is the other scheme aimed to boost the sugar industry in the country. It is the largest sugar factory built so far in the country and uses sugarcane produced on 50 thousand hectares wide land to produce 619 thousand tons sugar annually. What is more, this factory can produce 63 thousand meter cube of ethanol and 73 megawatts of electric power. This huge project generates job opportunities for more than 25 thousand people when it commences operation with its full capacity.

Kesem Sugar Factory, which is built in the Afar region on 100 hectares wide plot, has already started pilot production since last year and is expected to be operational with full capacity in the near future. It is completed as per schedule and has the capacity to produce 1.57 million quintals of sugar annually. 

The factory produces 26 megawatts of electric power via its two turbines and uses 18 megawatts and transfers the remaining to the national greed. What makes this factory different from others as the information from the Sugar Corporation indicates is that it uses the latest technology in the world that is being used in the production of sugar.

It also has tailored mechanisms to engage farmers residing in its outskirts in the supply of inputs. For this to happen, it has prepared and distributed irrigated land for organized farmers to produce and supply the input. About 9 thousand people are expected to get job opportunities in this factory both on permanent and temporary basis when it starts operation with full capacity.

Furthermore, the Kuraz Sugar Development Project is to be the largest one as it is to utilize 175 thousand hectares for sugarcane production and a 16 meter by 804 meter dam is built for diversion and utilization on the sugarcane plantation.  When this factory starts operation with full capacity, it shall produce 1,946,000 tons of sugar, 405 megawatts of electric power and 183,000 meter cube of ethanol annually.

According to the data from the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation, about 350 thousand jobs are created via the newly constructed sugar factories and the expansion undertaken on the old ones during the first Growth and Transformation Plan period. In addition to meeting the local demand for sugar, the factories are envisaged to produce ethanol and generate hydro-electric power to be used by them and transfer the remaining to the national power grid.

The country has been blending ethanol produced only by the Metehara sugar factory with gasoline and the new factories shall create more options and enable the country fill the gap in oil supply.

In a nutshell, the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation has planned to produce 2.3 million quintals of sugar and to earn 1.3 billion USD by exporting quintals at the end of the second Growth and Transformation period. In addition, the sugar development projects underway in various parts of the country are reflecting a considerable economic and social impact on the lives of thousands of people.

People will be far better off when they benefit from more irrigated lands, improved social services, access to school, electric power, better roads and other benefits that can be reaped in lines with the sugar development projects.

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The government’s intervention in the sugar industry has taken a different form since the last few years and this period could be dubbed as the golden age for the sugar industry if the commenced projects could be accomplished successfully on schedule period. It is a commendable venture as it is trying to address various socio-economic concerns of the people side by side with the goal of filling the ever growing demand for sugar in domestic market.

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