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Confidence, technology and determination advance social and agricultural gains in Senegalese sugarcane

Interview - October 22, 2015

André Froissard, Managing Director of Compagnie Sucrière Sénégalaise (CSS), discusses the sugarcane company’s extraordinary agribusiness success in Senegal, challenges to the country’s agriculture sector, and its Plan Sénégal Émergent (PSE) roadmap to self-sufficiency.



What can you tell us about your strategy to reach 200,000 tons for the year 2020 and thus be able to export in the sub-region?

When I joined the MIMRAN Group in 2007, we proposed an important investment program of over 80 billion CFA to our shareholders, which would allow us to provide funds over an eight-year period for the modernization of CSS, which at that moment was at the end of the cycle. This would increase its returns, double its capacity and maintain its position as the country’s leading private employer. The shareholders quickly approved this project called KT150, which will result by 2016/2017 in achieving Senegal’s self-sufficiency, with a production of over 150,000 tons of sugar per year. This project went well, and with some additional investments in the factory, the company is already planning to produce 200,000 tons of sugar by 2020, in order to support the demographics and export sugar within the sub-region to non self-sufficient countries and buyers of regional products. This program, called KT200, should be completed with new drip irrigated plantations to harvest 450,000 additional tons of cane annually.

What is behind CSS continued increase in efficiency and its success?

With its outstanding results in terms of yields between 120 and 180 tons of cane per hectare, depending on the area, and having an average over the whole plantation of 135 t/ha, CSS’s success stems from several factors.

Firstly, with the support of the shareholders, who confident and determined invested on the doorstep of the desert, CSS has opted for a transfer of industrial technologies to agribusiness. This way it can benefit from the most efficient equipment, which allows us to create furrows with satellite-guided diggers, or analyze cane density with computerized mechanical cutting machines, in order to program postharvest phyto-sanitary treatments targeted on each plot of land and adjust them by monitoring with drones.

Secondly, thanks to the meticulous mapping of the 880 plots of crops, soils are surveyed and inventoried in order to adapt the most appropriate cane quality to each of them.

Thus, CSS has been able to exploit new sandy soils, arid and deemed unfit for cultivation, and develop plantations under a finely adjusted drip that promotes bulb humidity around the plants, thanks to the performance of an irrigation network installed by Netafim, one of the world leaders in this domain. This are of work, complemented by the professionalism of national officials equipped with IT tools and the latest generation software, has reduced to the bare minimum the use of water and fertilizers and thereby helps preserve groundwater.

Finally, thanks to the excellent performance of the plant and by using biomass from sugarcane fiber, CSS produces its own energy with powerful turbo-generators of several dozen megawatts, connected to a network of 20,000 volts to electrify all pumping sites and the irrigation of crops. This policy of abandoning of fossil energy and respecting the environment has given CSS 40,000 tons of carbon credits per year.

What is the importance of strategic partnerships to achieve your goals?

To produce more sugar and have more biomass, it is necessary to harvest more sugarcane on new lands. In 2007, CSS extended over 11,500 hectares, of which 8,000 were under cane plantation. Three hundred additional hectares, acquired with great difficulty in 2014, have fortunately been sufficient to extend cane plantations to 10,500 hectares, thanks to improved yields. Thus, annual production could grow from 80,000 to 150,000 tons of sugar. The allocation of this new area of land would not have been possible without the support of the state and the active involvement of the local administration.

A production of 200,000 tons of sugar will only be obtained with the same support, along with a new investment of 50 billion CFA, and we know that instructions have therefore been given to the governorate of the region to determine 3,500ha in the desert area in order to achieve this new objective.

Senegal’s authorities have given the title of “locomotive” to CSS’s performance, because it boosts family and agribusiness farms in the river valley, in particular for another one of the state’s targets, which is self-sufficiency in rice.

Accordingly, CSS after its KT200 project launch, and with the agreement of the MIMRAN group, should also be involved in this agricultural sector with an initial program of 3,000ha of rice. The future is always full of promise when it comes to great achievements.

Can you describe Senegal’s current socio-economic situation and the factors that have contributed to its success?

The Head of State has defined a policy that aims for, amongst other things, Senegal’s self-sufficiency in several staple foods, as has been stated in the Senegal Emerging Plan “Plan Sénégal Emergent” (PSE). This program also carries with it a push for job creation throughout the country.

Nevertheless, the socio-economic situation remains difficult. While annual growth is respectable, it is insufficient to sustain high demographic growth, and the labor market still cannot bridge the existing gap, which implies a significant number of young Senegalese leaving in search of potential El Dorados.

As reducing the rate of population growth does not make sense, the outcome is to appeal to investors in order to increase domestic production, and as a direct result increase the number of jobs. China or India have settled this problem differently and may be a source of inspiration.

Everyone is talking about Senegalese potential. What would it really take to turn it into tangible results?

Senegal’s potential is unequivocally amazing, with its geographical location as the gateway to West Africa and its diverse climate, ample sunshine, high availability of water, and great human potential, especially in its youth. Unfortunately, to often these young people embark on long university courses not always adapted to the market’s needs. Consequently, gaps appear in terms of vocational training, and this is something on which we should focus in order to ensure that industries and agro-industries fill their vacancies. These failures are obvious when recruiting young engineers whose knowledge level is not in line with that of their elders, because of an impaired education due to recurrent teacher strikes.

In addition these modern, dynamic and confident students who have acquired all the requisite knowledge and skills enter the job market with insufficient capacity to fully manage their work in the field. Not always well trained, but passionate about the internet and eager about everything, they are not always good technicians with strong skills, which is what is expected from them in order to quickly integrate them in an industrial environment or in rice production, tomato cultivation, or planting sugarcane.

The future of a country is built on today’s children and as in any society, it is essential to prepare them adequately and thus to train them properly.

So how are these shortcomings offset by the industries?

These deficiencies require industries to assume additional training and support secondary schools where their means and study conditions and the means do not favor complete success.

In return, some financially wealthy parents send their children abroad for quality training. These students, at the end of the course, rarely return to the country and therefore do not take part in its development.

As compensation, the CSS has made significant efforts to motivate the return of these Senegalese engineers based in Europe. This is not done without risk and I would like to give as an example one of our experiences during the recruitment of a group of 15 engineers, which ended in 12 failures! Fortunately, with the obligation of CSS to strengthen their financial positions, two of the most successful have expressed their wish to stay and chosen to serve their country.

How do you define the relationship and collaboration that exists between the government, industry and the academic sector in Senegal?

We call this the triangle of success, and at its center we find the advantages that benefit the youth. In Senegal, education, however modest, and the lacking industries are of course brought together by the government; but this way of working is still fragile. If one element is missing or weak, the existing balance is destroyed. Its consolidation will be done with better communication between different ministries, which today penalizes each other’s decisions. Although competent, the Ministers of Industry, Education, Labor, Commerce and others, are extremely busy and do not have the necessary time to be in the field more often to properly decide on the policies to be applied.

Meanwhile, companies and universities organize themselves in meetings or forums to search for solutions and better coordinate between the needs of the former and the education provided by the latter.

In this environment, how can Senegal achieve self-sufficiency?           

Self-sufficiency will be achieved with the support of investors, regulating certain imports of traders, and protecting national production to accelerate the development of industries and agro-industries in the country.

Vigilance is needed, because when world prices are in their favor, import traders driven only by gain are harmful for the economy, using foreign currency to import what Senegal already produces.

As an alternative to the destruction of the local industrial fabric, it would be sensible for them to focus on the distribution of national products – as some traders, as good citizens, already do.

Nevertheless Senegal has foreign currency…

Apart from fishery products, tourism, and some mining resources, Senegalese exports are insufficient. Therefore the country has a deficit in foreign currencies despite the substantial remittances from the diaspora. If the country was not integrated in a regional area where the Central Bank of West Africa provides foreign currencies, in particular due to the cocoa exports from Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal would fall victim to the disparity of its trade balance. It is therefore time to stop unnecessary imports with the currencies of others, in order to stabilize the trade balance and consume national products. It’s simple and obvious.