By Innocent Daka

The investor engagement meetings ahead of the Muchinga Province Investment Forum and Expo built for the 3rd to 8th of October this year have continued to excite the interests of companies to look and see Muchinga as a Greenfield of new opportunities and expansion for investment. Sunbird Bioenergy Zambia Limited is the latest big investor that has registered its interest in expanding to Muchinga and tapping into the province’s limitless opportunities of commercial crop production and green energy generation. During the recent engagement meeting with the Muchinga Province Permanent Secretary Henry Mukungule, represented by the Expo Coordinator Maata Kamenda, Sunbird Bioenergy Zambia Limited Director for Agriculture Mark Muchinga assured the company’s undoubted plan to expand into Muchinga. He disclosed that his company growth plan is looking at expanding to three provinces, including Muchinga. “And when we look at Muchinga, Luapula and Northern, you know we are looking at these provinces as with high potential more specifically to do what we are looking at,” Mr Muchinga said. Currently, the company runs a 3,000-hectare cassava plantation in Kawambwa in the Luapula Province and is in the process of setting up an ethanol plant that will consume 600,000 tonnes of cassava annually. “We are into oil-rich based crops and we are into working much with cassava to try and produce ethanol that we are going to blend with our petrol,” he said.

Mr Muchinga added that blending petrol with ethanol is going to reduce the cost that the Government incurs in importing chemicals to reduce octane in the fuel. He explained that currently, the company is doing a cassava nursery for the feedstock of the ethanol plant to soon to be setup in Kawambwa. “The expansion plan is there. As you know, when we started this project, we started with a radius of 15 kilometres in the CBD of Kawambwa, it grew up to 55,” Mr Muchinga said. He also mentioned that some of the things that Sunbird was looking for is the number of small-scale farmers that the company can work with as out growers. According to him what was holding back the company from expanding quickly were “a few policy issues with, of course, the previous government in which we were waiting for certain policy to be put through more, especially on the off-taker of the product.” However, things are now looking up for the first ever ethanol operation in the country. “We are happy to say today that it is actually been moving very smoothly with the new dawn government and we even have a team that is coming through in the province, I think in a few weeks that is coming in to do all the groundwork on where the factory is going to be erected,” Mr Muchinga said. Mr Mark Muchinga also inquired and shared details on factors that would facilitate the company’s investment into Muchinga.

The Sunbird Director-Agriculture assured that the company’s growth that will eventually cover Muchinga Province is not in doubt. “In terms of growth, growth is there and I do not see any hiccup with our organisation to start. What we really look at as a project is land availability and how big that land is,” he said. He explained that other than just producing ethanol, Sunbird plants that will be able to generate power that could go on the grid. “We also have a department that also does clean energy. We do solar farms and did look also at Muchinga to see if we can put up a solar plant there, and I think this is also an opportunity we can discuss further and see how we can come in and showcase on both sides.”

He noted that some of the considerations for Sunbird Bioenergy Zambia to invest in the energy sector would be the availability of land, how close that land is to the national grid, in addition to line voltage as well as how much grid infrastructure is in existence.

Asked when the company would move into Muchinga, he responded: “we are growing and asking when we can be in Muchinga, it will be any time as soon as the factory is set up,” Mr Muchinga said. He attributed the possible sustained growth to the huge consumption of more than 600,000 tonnes of cassava that the ethanol plant will demand. “So that is quite a lot. That is a massive production, so we will definitely get into in Muchinga. From my side I will be the happiest if we started doing our groundwork now so that everything as we grow we just get ourselves into the game and finish off,” Mr Muchinga added. He requested the Expo Coordinator, Mr Kamenda, who is also the Assistant Director-Planning for Muchinga, to share all Expo profiles and proposals for Sunbird Bioenergy to abreast itself with what the province has to offer in terms of investment opportunities.