How Africa’s first cassava-based sorbitol factory became reality in Nigeria
Last Thursday, August 4, a cassava-based sorbitol factory, said to be the first in Africa and second largest in the world, built by Psaltry international, was launched in Iseyin area of Oyo state, with a capacity to produce 25 tons of sorbitol per day.
For almost ten years, the company was into cassava starch production, supplying various manufacturers across Nigeria but its production capacity could barely meet the industry’s needs. Its two production lines for starch see the company having a capacity of 40 tons per day.
Venturing into sorbitol production as explained by Oluyemisi Iranloye, the company’s CEO, followed an engagement with Unilever, an FMCG major in Nigeria, which gave Psaltry insights into some of the challenges faced by manufacturing companies to import sorbitol from other countries.
“We took up the challenge and started looking for ways to build our indigenous cassava-based sorbitol factory. I assembled a team of young people. We brainstormed day and night until we came up with the design,” said Iranloye. “In fact, I never knew a cassava-based sorbitol factory existed anywhere.”
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It was after finalising the design that she says they knew a cassava-based factory existed in Indonesia. “So I am proud to tell you that this factory we are commissioning today is 100% Psaltry and Nigeria inspired cassava-based sorbitol plant. This is completely our intellectual property,” she said.
To construct the factory, Iranloye noted the company received funding from FCMB under the CACS scheme (Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme) of CBN and Providus bank. Construction of what she describes as the first cassava-based sorbitol factory in Nigeria and Africa started in 2018, but then Covid-19 came, and disrupted the company operations and that delayed the completion date of the factory.
“We were faced with many challenges, and it appeared the end had come for Psaltry. But, we refused to lose courage in the face of despair,” she said. “This victory came through courage in the face of despair.”
According to her, the company’s journey has revealed that if more of such facilities are to be established across Nigeria, financial institutions must give longer moratorium to the projects of this nature to prevent failure. “I can say here without fear of contradiction that there is room in Nigeria for one hundred cassava processing factories,” she said.
The factory is expected to employ 10,000 youth and farmers in the community. It will change the lives of 100,000 people, directly and indirectly, within a 200km radius to the factory, covering more than 50 host communities, she said.
Already, Iranloye noted in her speech at the event, that over its years of operations in the community, the company has raised their standard of living from less than 1$ per day to about $5to10 per day.
For the company to better achieve its potentials, Iranloye pleaded with Seyi Makinde, Oyo state Governor for the construction of the road that links the main road to Alayide village. The road will service about 20 villages adjoining the factory and will have a multiplier effect on the economy of the area, she said.
She also sought for the government to build a bridge that connects Psaltry to its suppliers (mostly farmers) across the other end of the river. “They find it difficult to supply us their produce during the raining season when the water rises over its banks. They will be happy to see the bridge constructed. Farming is their main source of livelihood,” she said.
Finally, she noted that the cost of bringing water to the factory from Eruwa dam is about N1.7 billion, seeking the assistance of the government in supplying the water from the dam.
“We are ready to pay on “pay as you go” basis just as we do for Electricity,” she said.
Sorbitol is a naturally occurring sweetener, which is synthetically extracted from glucose. Due to its low calories ratio, it is used in sugar-free foods, pharmaceutical products, oral care products including mouth fresheners and toothpastes.