The Cassava: Adding Value for Africa Phase II (CAVA II) project’s impact in Africa has continued to spread in leaps and bounds. Recently the biggest brewery in Uganda accepted the use of cassava as a substitute for imported barley used in making beer. Uche Uduma x-rays the economic value this could bring to the African continent.
Beer is the most consumed alcoholic drink in Uganda. Before now, brewery industries in the country depended on malted barley as a source of starch for beer making. The use of malted barley in beer brewing in Africa was introduced by the ancient Egyptians around 6th millennium BC since barley is grown in abundance in the region. In the same vein, when beer making was introduced to Africa the use of malted barley was also introduced.
Since barley, the major ingredient in beer, is majorly grown in temperate regions and sparingly in the tropical regions; brewery industries in Africa resorted to barley importation in order to keep their businesses afloat. Resultantly, barley became the second largest feed grain traded internationally after maize. The dependence on imported barley in Africa did not just increase the cost of beer production; it began to stifle the economies of the countries that import barley, wheat and maize; it also deprived the smallholder farmers the opportunity to play in this market.
The use of imported malted barley in brewery industries in Africa gradually began to change a few years back, following a series of advocacies by the Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (CAVA) project and other policy makers, to the government in Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania and Ghana for the promotion of commercial cassava production for beer making. CAVA’s standpoint in the campaign has always been that by adopting commercial cassava production in the countries where cassava is cultivated bountifully, the potentials in the root crop can be unleashed. The countries will have a better leverage to eradicate poverty, create new markets for the smallholder cassava farmers, thereby improving their livelihoods and also create job opportunities in the emerging value chains in the cassava sector.
Efforts by the Cassava Adding Value for Africa (CAVA) project all these years, has yielded fruits in countries like Nigeria and Ghana. Recently, Uganda joined other countries to utilise cassava which is widely grown in the country, as a substitute for imported barley, maize and sorghum used hitherto in making beer.
The Head of Manufacturing Support and Governance, Uganda Brewery Limited, Mr Edward Katolubu, addressing the Cassava Adding Value for Africa project directorate and CAVA Uganda Team during a courtesy visit to the factory revealed that the move to adopt the use of cassava in brewing stems from the desire to advance development in the country.
He said, “There are a number of economic reasons that drive the cassava value chain, one of them is to steer the population to make income. Secondly, is to save the country the foreign exchange spent on importing barley and thirdly, is the drive to trigger advancement and development for the country. In summary countries have put in place policies that will encourage investors to look for materials that are grown in the country. The major component of beer is gotten from the starch . In Uganda, sorghum and wheat is grown, at the same time, starch can be sourced from sweet potatoes and cassava but there is no technology for it. Cassava is grown widely in Africa, so we decided to venture into it. In East Africa, we pioneered it.’’
Although the cassava crop has great potentials in the brewery industry, no more than a few breweries in Africa are yet to embrace the new raw material for brewing due to several factors such as the different varieties of cassava which the brewery industries are not familiar with.
Mr Katulubo went further to explain, “There is lack of consistency in the quality of cassava. There are different varieties of cassava. It is not very clear which variety has cyanide, so there is challenge of finding the variety that is suitable in all areas. Again there are challenges in processing; there are some varieties, whose starch content cannot be degraded. Then again, there are several small scale farmers and no large scale farmers, meaning that each smallholder will have different varieties.”
CAVA II Reaffirms Commitment to Support Breweries in Africa
The Project Director, Cassava Adding Value for Africa Phase II, Prof Kola Adebayo, responding to the challenges identified by the brewery industry, reiterated CAVA II’s readiness to offer technical support to the industry, adding that many brewery industries are beginning to see the gains of using starch from cassava in brewing beer.
Revealed, “Many breweries are now looking at cassava as a raw material in the brewing industry. When we started, we almost ruled out the possibility of using cassava in the brewery industry. We spent five years talking about it. Nigeria is at the forefront because they are the highest producer of cassava.”
In the same vein the Country Manager Cassava Adding Value for Africa, Uganda, Mr Francis Alacho, assured the brewery industries in the country of CAVA’s ability to work with the stakeholders in the cassava value chain particularly the community processing groups and aggregators, to strengthen them in order to ensure that the quality standards required of the brewery industry is met.
Alacho said, “If you link us with your aggregators, we will be able to train them to conform to quality standards.”
Prof Adebayo went further to add, “There are people we have been able to work with in five years and their products are excellent. What our teams are doing now is that we are identifying all groups involved in processing of cassava. We train them and ensure that the products that they bring to you are quality products. At the same time we subject the products to test every three months, to ensure that you have a good quality,” he added.
The shift from the use of barley to other Agriculture products with high starch content has been adopted in different countries. For instance, Brazil substitutes potatoes for barley, in Mexico agave is a substitute for barley, in other countries maize and sorghum is used. Finding a suitable substitute for barley has helped these countries to break their dependence on imported barley. In the same vein, Africa can also utilise the most cultivated crop in the region which is cassava, as a substitute for imported barley.