ANGOLA - Agriculture
Uirá Ribeiro was born in Brazil and graduated in civil engineering at UFBA (Federal University of Bahia). He arrived in Angola in 2011 and over more than 10 years has been in charge of different projects, including infrastructure projects in addition to the management of the first mall in the country. Since 2021 he has served as CEO of Biocom. At 47 years old, he is married and is the father of two girls.
Biocom is the first Angolan company to produce and commercialize sugar, ethanol, and electricity from biomass. How has Biocom evolved since its establishment?
Biocom’s project was created to replace gradually imports, to the national production, focused in self-sufficient, of an important basic food, which is the sugar. Biocom participates in the entire sugarcane production chain, I mean, as an agroindustry that we are, begin our process planting and treat the sugarcane, which after being harvested is transported to the industrial facilities and processed for the production of our three mains products which are sugar, ethanol and electricity, the latter being generated from the burning of sugarcane bagasse, or biomass, in our high-pressure boilers. The beginning of this great story was in 2007, when we started a research process to bring sugarcane varieties to Angola. We wanted to see which one would adapt better to Angola’s climate and soil. Furthermore, this is a Greenfield project, and we started it from scratch. We started to plant these more adaptable varieties, to study those that evolved well, and those that were more resistant to pests and the elements. In 2014, Biocom had its very first harvest. In 2022, we will produce around 120,000 to 130,000 tons of sugar of a total production capacity of 250,000 tons. Biocom is a young project, still growing, to reach our full capacity we need about 40,000 ha of sugar cane planted; today, we have around 30,000 ha planted. Besides the planted area, there are the quality and the productivity of soil, that we are working to improve all the time, adding fertilizers, plaster and limestone. Further that, we have scheduled investments in an irrigation project for 5.000 hectares. We know that we have a huge challenge in our hands, but we also have a great team, totally prepared and motivated, in addition we expect the support from our shareholders to the investments still needed. This means that in about five years we will have reached that sweet spot, and we will reach our full capacity.
Biocom supplied the national market with 120,000 tons of sugar in 2021, what has been your strategy to distinguish yourselves from other companies in the sector?
In fact, Biocom is the only producer of sugar and ethanol in the country. To fill the gap between Angola’s demand, which is around 350 thousand tons per year, and our production, the other companies import the product from other producing countries and only repack it here in Angola. We have been working to increase the marketing and reinforce the name of Kapanda, which is the brand of sugar we produce, in addition to always remembering this is the only 100% Angolan sugar. Over the years, our customers, ranging from housewives to industries that use our products as raw materials, have already noticed the quality of Kapanda and also of the ethanol we produce, and this is undoubtedly a factor that helps to distinguish us from other companies. Recently we also started the process to join to the “Made in Angola” seal, we believe that initiatives like these strengthen national producers.
Competing with the international market is hard. How can you establish a strong national market?
It’s not easy fight against imports. In the sugar case, for example, other countries such as Brazil and India, which are the two largest producers, have an entire basic industry to meet the demands of parts, fertilizers, and other inputs, while here in Angola we still have to import almost 100% of our needs. Currently, the country has some companies that produces packaging material, until 3 or 4 years ago we had to import even that. Biocom’s project addresses the need for the country to replace its imports and locally produce the most basic foods – such as sugar, which we produce, and which already meets about 40% of the country’s needs. In the other hand, it is essential to consolidate policies to protect and encourage national production, which are common in other countries, and to continue investing in the construction of the necessary infrastructure for the industrialization and diversification of the country’s economy. Investments in the training of professionals more and more qualified with greater technical knowledge are also essential for Angola to become more competitive.
One of Biocom’s missions is to contribute to the development of Angola through the production of fuels from renewable sources. How is Biocom contributing to Angolan development toward a better future?
Biocom is a self-sustaining project. We are a “green project”. We produce clean and renewable electricity by burning biomass, part of this energy is consumed in our production process and the overrun is made available to the RNT [Rede Nacional de Transmissão de Eletricidade], which is the only country’s electricity purchaser. Bearing in mind COP26, and being Angola one of the signatory countries of the agreements established at that summit, I believe that the future, more and more, is in the investment and development of projects for the generation of clean and renewable energy, and incentives must also be evaluated, whether tax or remuneration tariffs, in order to make these investments viable. In terms of Biocom’s production process, all electricity is generated through a clean industrial process that leaves no residue. All of the water that contains residue is reused, and our carbon emissions are balanced by planting sugarcane, whereby CO2 is completely neutralized. Therefore, Biocom acts accordingly to the new environmentally sustainable policies. Ours is a particularly interesting project, and deserves to be replicated, not only here in Angola, but in other African countries.
There is a major opportunity right now to invest in renewable energies and agriculture in Angola. Can you tell our readers about the investment opportunities?
I believe that Biocom can be used as a showcase for new investors, whether in the area of energy generation or agriculture. Definitely, the country’s electricity sector can be considered the primary sector for investments. And the emphasis should be on the generation of clean energy, generated at hydroelectric plants, which is country’s main focus today, but also generated by solar energy, and biomass, as in Biocom’s case. As many countries in Africa, Angola has vast potential in many sectors, but especially in agriculture. The country has a favorable geography, with climate and soil that adapt to different types of plantations. Angola is a young country, so it has been learning and improving its conditions year after year, the Government has already shown its desire to diversify its economy and has invested in agriculture as one of the pillars for this change. Recently Planagrão was launched, which will sure help the country to change the level of grain production and attract new investors. We hope that more initiatives to support and encourage national agriculture will be taken, including among others, but not only, the sugarcane plantation. So, the country reaches the self-sufficiency as soon as possible.
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