KHARTOUM - Sudan on Wednesday opened what it billed as Africa's largest sugar refinery, hoping to boost exports after the loss of billions of dollars in oil revenue when South Sudan separated.
President Omar al-Bashir inaugurated the $1-billion facility at a ceremony in White Nile state, saying "Sudan will be one of the more significant sugar-exporting countries" in the Arab and African region, the official SUNA news agency said.
White Nile Sugar announced earlier that it aimed to produce 450,000 tonnes of sugar annually and 60 million litres (13 million gallons) of ethanol.
Sudan's Kenana Sugar is the largest shareholder, with a 30 percent stake.
The Sudanese government has a 35 percent share in Kenana while the Kuwait Investment Authority has 31 percent.
Increased exports of sugar form part of the government's plan to recoup revenue lost when South Sudan separated last July, taking with it about 75 percent of oil production.
Southern oil represented more than one-third of the Khartoum government's revenues, and its biggest source of hard currency, leaving the regime struggling for alternatives.
Rising prices for sugar and other basic commodities have contributed to soaring inflation, which exceeds 30 percent as the currency weakens.
Scattered protests against already-high food prices began on June 16 at the University of Khartoum and spread to include a cross-section of people around the capital and in other parts of Sudan after the government announced austerity measures.
White Nile Sugar was to open in April but officials postponed the ceremony at the last minute.
Industry Ministry Abdelwahab Mohammed Osman said computer software needed to run the facility was "not ready because of American sanctions."
In 1997 the United States imposed a trade embargo on Sudan over human rights and other concerns, though the sanctions allow for exemptions under certain circumstances.