Domestic sugar production is possible, say experts

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Mongolia currently relies on imports to meet local sugar demand but experts are saying it’s now possible to alleviate the dependence through domestic production.

Most of the imported sugar come from Thailand, according to research. In 2018, Mongolia imported 61,300 tons of sugar worth 28,500 USD, which decreased to 46,500 tons, valued at 19,800 USD. Though the declining sugar consumption is a good sign, Mongolia continues to pour thousands of dollars out of the country on a staple that can be produced domestically.

Back in 1991, researchers started looking into the possibility of harvesting sugar in Mongolia and concluded that Bayangol soum in Selenge Province had the most favorable condition for growing sugar beets. The positive result encouraged more researchers to study this opportunity and even sparked talks of building a sugar factory. However, it wasn’t actualized. The government attempted to grow sugar beets and build a sugar factory in 1996 and again in 2011 but neither was successful.

Two years ago, the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry announced a tender for a project on growing sugar beets. This project seems to be raising hope as it is still in process.

“The Tender on Studying Opportunities to Grow Sugar Beets and Conducting Feasibility Study for Sugar Factory in Mongolia was held two years ago. Different kinds of calculations and studies were completed and they suggested that it’s possible to harvest sugar from 1,000 tons of sugar beets a day and 210,000 tons a year in Mongolia. The new factory would have the capacity to produce 31,500 tons of sugar annually on average, meaning it could substitute around 61 percent of sugar imports. Besides sugar, it would also produce sub products such as animal feed and spirit. Right now, we’re presenting this project to local and international organizations and investors,” said J.Tumur, senior specialist at the Agricultural Policy Implementation and Coordination Department of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry.

Estimations show that 125 billion to 140 billion MNT is required to build the sugar factory and plant sugar beets in an irrigated field. A minimum of 6,000 hectares of land with irrigation system is needed to fully satisfy local demand. As the ministry hasn’t been able to secure adequate funding or land, the project has been delaying, according to J.Tumur.

Director of the Vegetable Studies Section of the Institute of Plant and Agricultural Sciences Ts.Narandelger gave a short interview to discuss the viability of sugar production in Mongolia.

Selenge Province was identified in 1996 as having the most arable land for growing sugar beets. Due to the extreme climate and desertification, farming zones must have changed over the past years. Where should farmers grow sugar beets now?

It’s best to grow sugar beets in the central and eastern regions of Mongolia. However, the type of seed should be first evaluated to find the best growing condition. Sugar beets need a peculiar soil and a proper climate for its successful cultivation. To successfully grow sugar beets, the land must be properly prepared, have an irrigation system, and regularly managed to prevent insects and pests from harming the crop. The sugar plant should be close to the field and its transportation logistics should be well-organized. Once the plant is put into operation, it will need to be continuously supplied with raw material, so the land and location should be carefully selected.

How much sugar can farmers harvest from a hectare of land?

It’s fully possible to cultivate abundant sugar beets in Mongolia with the right agrotechnology. Some results indicated that locally produced sugar beets contain relatively high sugar contents compared to those grown in other countries. Trials proved that the climate and soil impacted the most on the level of sugar contents. The exact sugar content in locally cultivated sugar beets can vary between 12.5 percent and 22.3 percent. If the seed and field are right, up to 5.8 to 9 tons of sugar can be harvested from a hectare of land.

Can Mongolia fully meet its sugar demand through domestic agriculture?

It definitely can if it grows sugar beets in a large field. Sugar beets not only produce sugar but also a significant amount of excess products which can be turned into biofuel. Therefore, it’s imperative to support farmers and companies growing sugar beet and develop infrastructure for a sugar factory. It’s time for the government and agricultural ministry to pay attention to domestic sugar production.

Dulguun Bayarsaikhan