(Creamer Media) – Zambia’s largest sugar producer, Zambia Sugar, commissioned its more than $80-million Product Alignment and Refinery (PAAR) project at its Mazabuka-based Nakambala factory on Wednesday on time and within budget.

The PAAR project spoke to the long-term confidence that Zambia Sugar, supported by its majority shareholder JSE-listed Illovo Sugar, had in the Zambian government, its economy and its people, said Illovo Sugar group MD Gavin Dalgleish at the ceremony.

“This project consolidates Zambia Sugar’s position as Africa‘s single-biggest cane sugar producer and is an investment for the future, underlining the company’s strategy of focusing on growth within its domestic and regional markets and downstream opportunities to diversify our product mix,” the company stated.

The project scope included the construction of a modern, high-specification refinery and a range of smaller factory improvements, during which 1 200 t of structural steel was erected, 3 400 m³ of concrete was poured and 1.6 km of piles were installed.

As a result, Nakambala would more than double its yearly refined sugar production capacity to around 100 000 t and increase yearly sugar production capacity from 420 000 t to 450 000 t.

The fully-functional plant would also trigger increased cane revenues for the 150 Manyonyo and Maggobo smallholder cane growers, who would supply the additional cane demanded by the Nakambala factory.

“The PAAR project benefits these local communities in terms of both revenues derived from the supply of cane to the factory and, as part of a broader multiplier effect, brings employment opportunities for seasonal agricultural workers and other job creation prospects,” noted Zambia Sugar.

During the construction of the project, Zambia Sugar also provided local jobs, supported local businesses and provided the opportunity for some of its Zambian employees to further their skills in promotion-related openings.

Through the “cane to crystal” journey, Zambia Sugarcontinued to add value to the economy of Zambia by creating and sustaining employment opportunities, both directly and indirectly through downstream and upstream value chains. The company supported an estimated 3 390 people through the out-growers programme, and indirect and induced employment opportunities of between 1 881 and 8 087 people in the value chain.

Zambia Sugar estimated that the total operation supported between 11 285 and 17 491 jobs for every direct employee of Zambia Sugar and its value chains provided business to cane growers, cane haulers and contractors, among many others.

Dalgleish said the investment took place at a time when the world economy had recorded significant reductions in growth. “This has impacted the Zambian economy and consequently, the current economic environment is characterised by high interest rates and rising inflation. We recognise [the Zambian] government’s efforts in attempting to manage the economic fundamentals and to stabilise the exchange rate.”

The $60-million syndicated financing agreement for the refinery project was sourced locally, with Barclays Bank and Stanbic Bank appointed as the mandated lead arrangers while Citibank and the Zambia National Commercial Bankwere incorporated as financing partners. The balance of funding was sourced from Zambia Sugar’s own available cash resources.

Dalgleish added that the key driver for the Nakambala investment was the strong historical and forecast domestic refined-sugar sales growth, which was primarily driven by demand from domestic and regional industrialmanufacturers.  The project enabled the alignment of Zambia Sugar’s manufacturing assets behind a new post-European Union export sales mix and higher food safety standards.

This strategy would ensure that both direct consumers and industrial customers of the Whitespoon range of branded products would continue to receive the sugar and syrup products which they liked best at the exacting quality standards they demanded, concluded Dalgleish.

BY: TRACY HANCOCK

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