This doesn’t appear to be the best of time for stakeholders in the Sorghum industry, as lack of stability in government policy has pushed the sub-sector to the brink of collapse. Also, unjust import tariff system has not helped the situation.
The development has left local investors at the mercy of importers who bring in cheap barley malt, malt extract, glucose and maltose syrups to the detriment of locally made sorghum-based malt and extracts.
Managing Director, Food, Agro and Allied Industries Limited, Mr. Sudhansu Sinha, in an interview with reporters said the current waivers given to barley malt and barley concentrates imported into the country from Europe, mean that thousands of workers in the farming, processing and storage segments of the sorghum value-chain could lose their jobs.
He explained that, “The decision by previous administrations, reversing ban on importation of barley malt with very low import duty and exemption from VAT and levy, has brought about a catastrophic reversal to the fate of investors and producers of sorghum malting and sorghum-based extract in Nigeria.”
According to Sinha, foreign exchange is wasted for a product for which locally grown replacement is abundantly available. “The malting plants closed down one after the other, markets collapsed, new brand of professionals like ‘maltsters’ and supporting workers are losing their jobs; sorghum price has also collapsed and farmers and those involved in the sorghum chain are suffering.
“Of course, it is not only Food, Agro and Allied Industries Limited that has been affected by this reversal. All the other malting plants in the country are barely functional. Aba malting plant is doing a mere 10 per cent of its installed capacity as a result of the waiver and every other element in the sorghum production value chain, including the farmers, are now losing their livelihood.”
He stressed that breweries in the country that are multinational companies and their malting plants overseas, are enjoying their windfall at the cost of local sorghum-based industries, employees and sorghum farmers in the country.
“Importing raw materials for beer production is imposing forex burden on the masses. This is done by some unscrupulous companies and their supporters in the government policy making, in the name of quality beer, but the fact is that beer made with sorghum and malted sorghum is Gluten-free and scientifically proven to be better and of a higher quality.
“It is for this reason that Guinness and a number of other brewing companies have switched side, preferring the Nigerian made sorghum extract, which is clearly of higher quality. Unfortunately, the story is not the same for food segments like biscuit makers who still prefer to patronise the cheaper, but inferior foreign made glucose, maltose syrups. Even what they use as malt extract is often Molasses, a heavy metal loaded waste from sugar makinking.”
Sinha said his regret is not about the misfortune of his company, but the fact that the country stands to lose a major agricultural heritage that has put her on the global map. “I’m not happy that the sorghum malting industry is dying; this is essentially a Nigerian asset, why should we lose it? Nigeria happens to be the top producer in the world. In 2008, it was number one with 11million tons; currently it is about six to seven million tons because of government’s policy problems, but it is still the fourth largest in the world, and there is every potential to increase.
“Sorghum does not grow in Europe, it is a produce of the semi-arid tropical region; sorghum is grown in Nigeria in the upper North, Europe does not have that; Europe is a temperate climate, sorghum is not really unknown to them except for the lower part of France and Spain. Of course, a lot has so far been lost, but it is not too late for government to rescue the situation by listening to the cries of stakeholders in the agro-allied segment who are calling on the Federal Government to re-impose the ban on importation of malted barley or stiff duty and levy to discourage imports.”