RMRDC's Sorbitol Production to Slash Nigeria's Spending by N40 Billion Annually
RMRDC's Sorbitol Production to Slash Nigeria's Spending by N40 Billion Annually

RMRDC's Sorbitol Production to Slash Nigeria's Spending by N40 Billion Annually

  • 03-May-2023 5:54 PM
  • Journalist: Patricia Jose Perez

Abuja: Recent research has indicated that cassava can be a leading substitute for producing Sorbitol. Despite Nigeria's considerable cassava production, reports show that the country spends around N40 billion annually to import Sorbitol. With this information in mind, the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) is actively taking steps to enhance cassava production and decrease importation.

Sorbitol (E420) is a naturally occurring substance in fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, apricots, and nectarines, as well as in some vegetables and dried fruits like prunes, dates, and raisins. With a sweetness level that's roughly 60% of table sugar and a lower caloric value of 2.7 kcal/g (compared to 4 kcal/g in sucrose), Sorbitol is considered a safe and stable option for use in high-temperature settings. Its safety has been recognized by global organizations such as the World Health Organization, the European Union, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as authorities in Australia and Canada.

The global Sorbitol market was valued at USD 1.66 billion (N1.2 trillion) in 2022, with a projected CAGR of 6.7% from 2023 to 2030, due to the high demand for this versatile product. Sorbitol is increasingly being used as a substitute for sugar in diabetic and dietetic food and beverages. Moreover, consumers are opting for Sorbitol as a sugar substitute in their food products, which is driving demand for the product. It is also being widely used in oral care products because of its slower metabolism rate, as compared to other sugar alcohols, which prevents dental problems like cavities and tooth decay. The resistance to digestion by oral bacteria makes it non-cariogenic, which is another reason for Sorbitol's growing popularity. Additionally, Sorbitol plays a major role as a raw material in Vitamin C manufacture, thus contributing to the increase in demand.

The demand for Sorbitol is on the rise due to its increasing utilization in the industrial sector, particularly in the food and beverage industry as a nutritive sweetener. Sorbitol is widely used to enhance the shelf life of various confectionery and bakery products, maintain their freshness and color, and in the production of canned fruit.

Moreover, with a low glycemic index of 9, Sorbitol is considered suitable as part of a diabetic diet. This has contributed to the increasing consumer preference towards low-calorie foods, particularly due to the global rise in the number of patients with diabetes. As such, Sorbitol's health benefits have significantly boosted its demand in the market.

Sorbitol is typically sold commercially as a 70% solution and appears as a colorless to faint yellowish polyhydric alcohol.

Liquid Sorbitol, known for its inertness to humidity fluctuations, has the potential to replace both Glycols and Glycerol, as it shares similar properties with them. With its dual functionality as a humectant and water stabilizer, it is highly valuable in the Gelatin capsule industry and cosmetic emulsions.

The efforts made by RMRDC in promoting cassava productivity, in collaboration with the National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike, will lead to a significant increase in cassava output within the country. To fully harness this development, it is crucial to expand the cassava value chain development to include the production of industrial raw materials that are in high demand locally and possess competitive export potential.

The demand for Sorbitol is high among manufacturing companies in the country, but most of it is currently being imported due to limited local production. To boost the country's economy, the Council is working alongside research institutes and industry experts to encourage investment in Sorbitol production from cassava as a viable solution to reduce importation.

The Council has created a process to locally produce Sorbitol, resulting in the installation of a pilot plant at the RMRDC Technology and Innovation Complex. With a production capacity of 75kg per batch, the plant can produce both liquid/syrup and crystal/powder Sorbitol products. These products are in high demand within the local market and have significant potential for export. The equipment used in the plant has undergone testing and meets international quality standards.

The Council is currently collaborating with stakeholders to establish cassava production plants in major cassava producing areas across the country. One of the benefits of this investment is its flexibility to operate at small, medium, and large scales, making it accessible to local government areas, state governments, and private sector investors.

By encouraging the proliferation of the production plants, this initiative is expected to save the nation over 40 billion naira in foreign exchange annually, while also creating job opportunities and reducing poverty. Moreover, the potential for export can generate foreign exchange.

According to their strategic plans, the Council and other stakeholders predict geometric growth in this sector in the next few years. This investment has the potential to benefit the country as a whole and its citizens.

Nigeria became the largest producer of cassava worldwide in 2018, with production taking place in 24 of the country's 36 states. The country's total cassava output during the period was approximately 59.5 million tons, representing 21% of the global total. However, up to 90% of cassava produced in Nigeria is consumed domestically without being subjected to any value-adding processes. Other countries with significant cassava production include Thailand (31.7%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (30.0%).

As per the Nigerian Presidential Initiative 2002, the country's cultivated area for cassava has been steadily increasing. The initiative predicts that this area will reach 5 million hectares soon, with an expected annual yield of 150 million tonnes if the initiative is upheld. Additionally, the Federal Executive Council has approved a concession on cassava biomass and Bio-Ethanol value chain development.

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