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Northern light: Sokoto State ready for investors
Thu, 10 Apr 2008 12:32

Sokoto State has the second largest number of livestock in Nigeria. Because
of the abundance of skin and hides, the state government is actively
promoting investment in the leather industry.
Picture: Caterina Bortolussi

From leather to gum arabic to limestone, Sokoto State has numerous investment opportunities. Caterina Bortolussi spoke to Alhaji M. S. Musa Musa, Sokoto State Coordinator for the Raw Material Research and Development Council, about what the region has to offer.

The Sokoto State government is committed to stimulate economic growth by attracting investment. Can you please elaborate on the available investment opportunities in the state?

There are many investment opportunities in Sokoto State and any investor that knows his onions should take advantage of the situation. We have a large population of livestock and our number one priority is to promote the leather industry because of the abundant number of hides and skin. The quality of Sokoto leather is the best in the country and of an international standard. Sokoto has a long history in the production of hides and skin but at the moment we don’t have a single modern industry in the state. We need investors to establish a leather processing facility here because currently most of the hides and skin are taken to Lagos and Kano for processing.

Sokoto State also has large areas of land which can be used to cultivate crops. We are especially promoting gum arabic which is used for the making of gum, binders, paints, pharmaceuticals and other products. Gum arabic is a substance that is taken from a drought resistant tree known as acacia senegal. If you plant acacia during the dry season, you only have to irrigate it for about four to five months and after that it doesn't need any more irrigation. It also doesn't need fertiliser, and all you have to do is apply some insecticide and pesticide, as well as give it some weeding. It usually grows into a tree within four years and can then be harvested annually for the next ten years. Sokoto has suitable climatic conditions for gum arabic.

What returns can investors in gum arabic expect?

The returns are usually high because it can be exported and the market is there. Sudan is the world's largest producer and it is their main source of foreign exchange. The country's political and economic problems have however caused production to slow down. The USA and some European countries would therefore like to see gum arabic being produced in Nigeria and Chad.

Are you looking at exporting raw gum arabic or processing it here?

We will continue to export raw gum arabic because we currently don't have the capability to process it. This is why we are calling on investors to invest in processing facilities. In our market we have so much gum arabic that investors have access to any amount they want. At the moment the majority of gum arabic is however gathered through wild collection. The trees grow by themselves, nobody planted them and they produce grade two or three gum arabic. It can however be processed into grade one, which is needed for export purposes.

What other agricultural raw materials have the potential to thrive in Sokoto State?

The neem tree (Azadirachta indica) which is known as Dogon Yaro in Nigeria is another crop with much potential. The British brought the tree to Nigeria to counter the encroachment of the Sahara desert in some of the northern states. Over the years we have only used it to check desertification, but it has many uses as an industrial crop. India has about 25 million neem trees and every year they earn around US$2 billion dollars from these trees by producing fig oil which is exported to Europe and America. It is also used in pharmaceuticals and in treatment of many ailments. In Sokoto State alone we have double the amount of trees than what they have in the entire India and we are not using it for anything. This is not the way it should be.

We are calling on interested parties to come and invest in neem trees but there is a condition here, whoever wants to get involved with such a project in Sokoto State has to enter into a joint venture with the state government. The neem trees are already here and potential investors don't have to plant anything. It is just up to them to come in with the technology and start processing for neem oil and bio-fertiliser. The state government spends a lot of money on procurement of bio-fertiliser every year which they give to farmers, therefore the government can even be the first market.

What does the state have to offer with regard to solid minerals?

Sokoto State is located in a sedimentary basin and is therefore endowed with many mineral resources. We have large deposits of limestone which is a major raw material for the manufacturing of cement. An opportunity exists to establish a cement factory because Sokoto State has 100% of the raw materials that goes into cement production. The demand for cement in Nigeria is very high and buyers deposit money before it is even produced. The total cement output does not even meet 50% of the total domestic demand.

Limestone has many other uses and is an important raw material for producing hydrating lime, calcium carbide and paint. In the USA it is even being used to control acid rain.

Another mineral found in the state is phosphate rock which is used in making fertiliser and to produce sulphuric acid. Sokoto is the only state in Nigeria where phosphate rock can be found in commercial quantities. For some countries, such as Togo and Morocco, phosphate is the main foreign exchange earner. Israel supplies phosphate rock to the whole of Europe and it is traded globally just like oil.

I have seen plants in Europe where they process this rock and it is more complex than anything we have here in Nigeria. We are planning to begin with exploration activities and some international agencies are ready to partner with us if the deposits are promising.

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