The history of the Zambia Sugar production started in the 1950s when the Refinery was set up in Ndola on the Copperbelt. Sugar cane was grown at Nakambala Estate and transported to Ndola for refining. However in 1990, the refinery was moved to Nakambala estate resulting in increased sugar production from 190 000 tons to 240 000 tons per annum. By 2009 sugar production leap frogged to 420, 000tons per annum and in the same year an additional boiler and diffuser were installed for increased efficiency in the production process.

In 2014 Illovo took a bold decision to invest in expansion of the factory and the key driver for the investment in Zambia was the strong historical and forecast domestic refined sugar sales growth, which had been primarily driven by demand from domestic and regional industrial manufacturers.

The strategy was aimed at ensuring that both direct consumers and industrial customers of the range of Whitespoon branded products continued to receive the sugar and downstream products they liked best at the exact quality standards they demanded.

Thus in 2016 Zambia Sugar commissioned a new refinery with additional capacity of 90,000 tons per annum. The development of the refinery was aimed at helping the company to double production capacity of refined sugar from 45 000 tons to 92 000 tons and increase overall annual sugar production capacity from 420 000 to 450 000 tons through a range of smaller factory improvements. The total project cost was ZMW522 million (US$ 82 million). The refinery expansion project consolidated Zambia Sugar’s position as Africa’s single-largest   sugar producer.


It is an investment for the future that underlines the company’s strategy of focusing on growth within its domestic and regional markets and downstream opportunities to diversify its product mix. Further the project was unique in the sense that it brought an opportunity to align Zambia Sugar’s manufacturing assets behind a new post-EU export sales mix and higher food safety standards.


What the expansion project also achieved was providing impetus to the development of Zambia Sugar’s smallholder cane farmers and offer employment opportunities for local people during the construction phase from 2014 to 2016 when the project was completed.

About 400 people were employed during the construction phase of the project, while the increased cane supply for the improved Nakambala factory will come primarily from area expansions of which the smallholder development at Manyonyo, involving some 145 individual growers is a major part of.

In addition to the construction of the new refinery, Zambia Sugar also undertook an optimisation of the existing plant. This entailed various installations and plant modifications to improve throughput and process efficiencies, establish separate product lines for household and brown sugar, integrate the new refinery, and redeploy the existing refinery to produce dark brown sugar for the regional market.

Major installations included a juice clarifier, four vertical juice heaters, two vacuum mud filters and mud hopper, and an A continuous vacuum pan. Major plant modifications included an upgrade of boiler 6 from 165 TPH to 185 TPH and the installation of a scrubber on boiler 5.


However despite these significant investments and improved production forecast, recent trends in sugar production show a decline from the 2014/2015 season when the company recorded an all-time high of 424,000 tons of sugar to 380,000 tons in 2015/2016 season and 359,000 tons in 2016/2017 season. The drop in sugar production was due to drought conditions and associated power interruptions which restricted irrigation.


In terms of domestic sales, the dip in sales volumes were driven mainly by declining disposable income levels due to challenging consumer market conditions. Not to mention the competitive pressure arising from illegal sugar imports.

The business benefitted from improvements to the sales mix with sugar being redirected from EU into regional markets.

And since commissioning the refinery a number of new markets in the region have been supplied with our products. These include 3,000 tons into Zimbabwe and a further 9,000 tons into Mozambique in one-ton bags. There is also the exciting prospect of supplying up to 30,000 tons to bottlers in Bukavu in the Eastern DRC. The capability to supply conditioned sugar in one-ton bags in the domestic and regional market gives Zambia Sugar a competitive edge.


It is also worth mentioning that we produce our own electricity in the factory from bagasse which is the fibrous residue following the sugar extraction process. Bagasse is used as a bio-renewable fuel source in the factory boilers to produce steam for processing requirements and for driving mill and shredder turbines. The electricity is supplied to the factory itself for sugar production, pump stations, offices & homes located on the estate.


In terms of human resource, the factory boasts of experienced professionals in electrical, mechanical, civil engineering, instrumentation, laboratory technologists, artisans etc. all who contribute to ensuring that the largest factory in Zambia operates 24/7 to produce superior grade sugar and downstream products.