One of the priorities is to increase sugar production. Experts recently outlined the country's plans to boost the sector's output ten-fold to an annual 10 million tonnes by 2015, up from some 850,000 tonnes at present. The vast African nation could eventually end up producing twice that - a staggering amount that would put Sudan in the top-five of world producers alongside Brazil, India and the EU. Obviously, when sugar plans are announced nowadays, biofuels are in the air. And indeed, Sudan is expected to legalise the blending of ethanol in gasoline by July.
Speaking at a three-day International Sugar Organization (ISO) meeting in Mauritius, Hassan Hashim Erwa, marketing manager for the Kenana Sugar Company representing Sudan listed the projects that will be implemented. Kenana is owned mainly by Arab government investors (ironically, that is, people with links to OPEC).
Jobs, health, education and... ethanol
The majority of 13 projects included in a 10-year strategy to produce the 10 milllon tonnes are south of Khartoum between the White and Blue Niles. "By 2015, we will be ready to produce 10 million tonnes," Erwa said. "The capacity of Sudan could go to 20 million." Part of Sudanese agricultural reforms, the projects are expected to create 700,000 jobs and to improve health and education for three million people, Erwa said. This opportunity for socio-economic development is of course much welcome in a country that has just come out of a devastating civil war and that is rebuilding its society.
The largest of the projects, the Eljazeera project, was aiming to produce 2.9 million tonnes of sugar and 205 million litres of ethanol per year, he said. Sudan, which produces 330,000 barrels per day of crude oil, is expected to legalise the blending of ethanol with petrol in July, he said:
bioenergy :: biofuels :: energy :: sustainability :: ethanol :: biodiesel :: sugarcane :: sorghum :: soybeans :: sweet potato :: poverty alleviation :: agriculture :: South Sudan :: Sudan ::
Sudan's extra sugar production will most likely be sold on Arab, African, and internal markets, Erwa said. Linked to the presence of oil, Sudan's economy is expected to grow up to 13 per cent this year. "The Sudanese population is growing, the patterns and consumption habits of people are changing," he said.
Sudanese production could also help plug a sugar deficit in the Middle East and North Africa, equal to almost 9 million tonnes for 2006/07, according to ISO figures. This month, the ISO forecast a world sugar production surplus of 9.1 million tonnes for 2006/07. World production would equal 162.6 million tonnes, it said. "All of these factors will contribute to a very dynamic market," Erwa said.
Brazil, global leader in the production of ethanol from sugarcane is showing growing interest to cooperate with Sudan on producing biofuels. At a recent industry fair in Khartoum, representatives from Brazil's ethanol sector were present, and the director of a major Brazilian research institute involved in organising tech transfers and South-South relations said Sudan would make for an interesting partner for joint biofuel development projects (earlier post).
This interest no doubt stems from the country's vast untapped agricultural potential. Sudan has around 86 million hectares of arable land available for rainfed agriculture (roughly three times the size of the United Kingdom, twice the size of California), some 17 million (slightly less than 20%) is currently under cultivation. Even with rapid population growth, Sudan can easily feed its population and neighboring countries, while sustainably growing a vast amount of energy crops for biofuels.
According to the Global Agro-Ecological Data compiled by the FAO and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Sudan has around 26 million hectares of suitable land for the cultivation of raindfed sugar cane (high inputs), and 73.7 million hectares for sorghum (map, click to enlarge). Take into account that dedicated varieties of sweet sorghum have recently been bred specially for semi-arid regions and with ethanol production in mind (both the ICRISAT as well as scientists from the Texas A&M University's Agricultural Experiment Station have developed such drought-resistant, high yield sorghums; the ICRISAT variety delivers grain, forage and sugar all in one crop; the U.S. variety is meant as a biomass crop for the production of cellulosic ethanol).
Other biofuel crops with a large potential in the country are sweet potato (60.5 million ha), groundnut (79 million ha), pearl millet (75.7 million hectares) and especially soybeans - a major biodiesel feedstock - with 73 million hectares. Of the latter, Sudan only uses a tiny fraction. All data mentioned here are for high input, but rainfed cropping.
The bulk of this potential arable land is found in the Autonomous Region of Southern Sudan.
On the land data per crop, see FAO/IIASA: Data Sets of selected Global AEZ assessment results - all data are in *.excel format.
Land suitability maps per crop can be generated from the FAO Land & Water Development Division's database of Land Suitability Maps for Rainfed Cropping, which are based on the Global Agro-Ecological Zoning (GAEZ) methodology.