JSE-listed sugar producer Illovo Sugar’s $82-million construction project at its subsidiary Zambia Sugar’s Nakambala sugar plant will give momentum to the further development of Zambian smallholder cane farmers, as well as provide employment opportunities for local people during construction, says Illovo Sugar Group MD Gavin Dalgleish.
Once the expansion project is complete, the plant will more than double its yearly refined sugar production capacity to about 100 000 t and increase its yearly sugar production capacity from 420 000 t to 450 000 t, through a range of smaller factory improvements.
The project scope includes the erection of a modern high-specification refinery. Construction of the project will start in the first half of 2015 and it is envisaged that after the start-up of the Nakambala factory in April 2016, the refinery will come on stream in May 2016, says Zambia Sugar MD Rebecca Katowa.
“The project consolidates Zambia Sugar’s position as Africa's single-biggest cane sugar producer and underlines the broader Illovo Sugar Group’s strategy of focusing on growth within our domestic and regional markets,” she says.
Meanwhile, the increased cane supply for the Nakambala factory expansion project will come primarily from area expansions, of which the smallholder development at Manyonyo, involving about 145 individual growers, plays a major role.
“We are pleased that the development will benefit the local community in terms of revenue derived from the supply of cane to the factory and in terms of it being a source of employment opportunities for seasonal agricultural workers and other job creation opportunities,” adds Katowa.
It is projected that more than 400 people will be employed during the construction phase of the project. Zambia Sugar boasts a strong and long-standing history in local sugar sales in Zambia, and also exports sugar to African regional and preferential markets in the European Union (EU).
About 90% of the Illovo Sugar Group’s total energy requirements are produced through renewable energy. Dalgleish tells Engineering News that the company uses dry, fibrous bagasse – a by-product of the extraction process – and biomass left in the fields after harvesting as a fuel source for renewable energy. The bagasse replaces fossil fuel sources, like coal, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
He explains that the group’s objective is to ensure reliable, cost-effective energy supply using bagasse and biomass generated from its own operations, and, in some cases, to export power into the national grids of the countries in which it operates.
In Swaziland, for instance, the recent major production expansion of Illovo Sugar’s Ubombo plant at Big Bend, in the east of the country, included significant upgrades to its power cogeneration facilities, which are now capable of supplying all of the operation’s power requirements, including its significant agricultural activities. In addition, the factory exports electricity into the Swaziland grid in terms of a commercial supply agreement with the Swaziland Electricity Company.
“Ubombo represents Southern Africa’s first fully integrated sugar milling and power cogenerating operation and is, therefore, being used as an operating model that we are in the process of applying to new and existing operations across the African continent,” Dalgleish elaborates.
Illovo Sugar is a major sugar supplier to consumers and industrial customers in domestic and regional markets in Africa, and also exports sugar to the EU and the US. The company has operations in South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia.
Its operations outside South Africa have access to the South African Customs Union market, under the Southern African Development Community Sugar Protocol on Trade. Illovo further exports sugar into the world free market through the South African sugar industry.
Sugar and speciality sugars are also produced in South Africa and Zambia, mainly for domestic consumption, while speciality sugars made in Malawi and Zambia are produced for preferential markets in the EU and in the case of Malawi, also for the US.
The company’s downstream operation includes the production of furfural and its derivatives at the Sezela mill complex in KwaZulu-Natal, while high-quality potable alcohol is produced at the Merebank plant in Durban and at the Glendale distillery on the north coast. Lactose is also produced at Merebank.
Further, a new potable alcohol distillery at the Kilombero plant in Tanzania was recently commissioned, which uses both molasses and energy supplies produced by the two factories to make around 12-million litres of potable alcohol yearly.