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Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum), is a specie of the tall perennial true grass and belongs to the grass family Poaceae. Sugarcane is one of the valuable crops grown in the world and this is as a result of its strategic position and its varied use both for individual and industrial reasons. Sugar cane accounts for about 60-80% of the world sugar production.
Sugarcane is indigenous to tropical south and south-east Asia, but can be successfully grown in other areas. As at 2012, an estimate of 1.86 billion tons of sugarcane was harvested from 26 million hectares of land cultivated. Currently, Brazil is the largest producer of sugarcane followed by India, China, Thailand, Pakistan and Mexico.
Sugarcane grows and thrives in a variety of soils, but it grows best in deep, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter with a pH of between 5.0 and 8.0. Sugarcane is suited to tropical and subtropical regions, with high temperature 26-330C, radiation and sufficient annual rainfall between 1500 and 2500mm. In Nigeria, sugarcane can be cultivated in Kwara, Niger, Kano, Kaduna, Kastina, Jigawa, Taraba, Sokoto and Adamawa and in the absence of sufficient rainfall in these regions, artificial irrigation should be provided.
Sugarcane is an asexual plant hence it is majorly propagated by planting vegetative cutting or materials such as setts (stem cuttings or sections of a stalk) or settlings (cane setts with roots or shoots). In propagation using setts, healthy sugarcane plants should be selected( preferably, long and thick stems about 40cm long), then the sugarcane stems should be split into foot-long pieces called ‘setts’ after these, furrows or trenches about 4-inches deep should be dug and the sett planted horizontally in the furrows.
Sugarcane is susceptible to pest and disease attack throughout its growth process, these attacks are of economic importance as they affect the quantity and the quality of yield, hence they must be eliminated or reduced to the barest minimum. The best method is prevention and that is achieved by eliminating causative factors such as water- logging, nitrogen build up, lodging etc. and in cases with the emergence of pests and diseases, appropriate treatment with pesticide and fungicide should commence. Listed below are some of the most common pest and diseases of the sugarcane.
Earlyshoot borer- this insect attacks the sugarcane during its early state before the formation of the internode.
Internode borer- this insect attacks the crop soon after the internodes are formed and the attack continues until harvest is done.
Pyrilla (Pyrilla purpusilla Walker)- is the most destructive foliage sucking pest of sugarcane, heavy rainfall, high humidity, high temperature and wind movement are major factors that favours Pyrilla multiplication.
Red Rot (Colletotrichum Falcatum)- is the most dreaded disease of the sugarcane, that has caused the loss of some important varieties. The most significant or characteristics sign of this disease is the presence of reddish discoloured patches or lesions interspersed with white horizontal patches on the internal tissue.
Ratoon stunting disease- is the most important cause for sugarcane varietal degeneration, this disease leads to progressive decline in yield and germination.
Sugarcane can be harvested manually or using mechanized tools. In manual harvesting, the field is set on fire to burn dry leaves and also chase or kill snakes hiding in the plantation, this leaves the water rich stalks and root unharmed. The cane is then cut a little above ground-level with a machete or cane knife, the disadvantage of this method is if carried out by unskilled workers, loss of cane & sugar yield, poor juice quality and others difficulties may arise. In big plantations, harvesting is carried out by mechanised harvesters.
Nigeria is the second largest consumer of sugar in Africa, and her sugar consumption accounts for 50% of the sugar consumed in West Africa, with her consumption rate still on the increase. Also, as at 2013, Nigeria has a sugar refining capacity of 2.1 million tonnes and even boasts of the largest sugar refining plant in Africa, yet most of the raw materials (raw brown sugar) used are imported from Brazil at the cost of about $500 million per annum. In view of this, one wonders why sugarcane is not being planted in larger quantities in Nigeria? Nigeria has about 500,000 hectares of land suitable for cultivating sugarcane (both Industrial sugarcane and domestic sugarcane) and these land can produce 5 million metric tonnes of sugarcane which when processed gives about 3 million metric tonnes of sugar.
Hence there is prospect of sustained sugarcane cultivation in Nigeria, also the government in a bid to encourage local cultivation of sugarcane and processing of sugarcane to raw sugar, has provided some incentives to producers and those in the sugar value chain which includes a 5 year tax free holiday for investors in the sugar value chain.
Although, Nigeria has the largest sugar refinery in Africa, there are few milling plant hence most of it raw materials are imported, as such we lose out on by-product such as bagasse which is also very useful. Bagasse is the fiber that remains after the juice of the sugar cane has been extracted. It used as biofuel and in the manufacturing of paper and building materials. Hence, investment in the sugarcane value chain in Nigeria includes but is not limited to sugarcane cultivation, sugarcane mills and ethanol plants.
Sugarcane is an extremely important crop as its products are some of the world’s most consumed or used products. Below are some of the products from sugarcane.
Sugar is one of the most consumed substance in the world, and 70% of world sugar production comes from sugarcane.
Ethanol gotten from sugarcane is more energy efficient than other crop based ethanol, and is used majorly as biofuel.
Bagasse, the fibrous material left after the extraction of sugar cane juice is also used as biofuel (heat and power) and for making pulp and building materials. Sugar mills can be powered by bagasse generated electricity.
Molasses, a by-product of sugarcane juice extraction process is used in making rum.
Sugarcane is also used locally for making drinks.
Sugarcane farming is a lucrative venture under the right conditions. Opportunities abound in cultivating it because its products are of immense value and importance to man.
Sugarcane is one of the most cultivated plants in the world.
It can be harvested up to 10 times before replanting.
There is a continuous and growing market for its produce globally.
There is also a 5 year tax free holiday for investors in Nigeria.
There is renewed interest in sugarcane cultivation with government releasing the sum of N26bn to resuscitate the Sunti sugar company.
With the world turning to eco-friendly fuel options, oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and British Petroleum (BP) have also invested in the sugarcane industry for its energy efficient ethanol. Also with the current low price of crude oil, sugarcane is a viable business to venture into as an alternative to crude oil.
With almost $500 million being spent in importing raw sugar, sugarcane cultivation in Nigeria is a promising venture.
Sugarcane is susceptible to attacks from pests and diseases.
Varieties with high yield are not locally available.
Onwueme IC (2005). Crop Science: Tropical Agricultural Series.
TNI Agrarian Justice Programme ( June 2013): ‘ The sugarcane industry and the global economic crisis’.
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