text size: smaller reset larger

 

 

Cassava - big business in South Sudan

Replacing imported barley with locally-grown cassava starch for beer brewing has created a market in South Sudan (© SABMiller, OneRedEye/Jason Alden)
Replacing imported barley with locally-grown cassava starch for beer brewing has created a market in South Sudan
© SABMiller, OneRedEye/Jason Alden

Two hours drive from South Sudan's main city of Juba, the Jujumbo Farmer Field School might seem an unlikely partner for one of Africa's leading brewing companies. But this well-organised group of 20 smallholders is among 2,000 South Sudanese farmers who from July 2012 will be selling their cassava crop to Southern Sudan Beverages Ltd (SSBL), part of the South Africa-based SABMiller drinks company. In so doing, and if all goes well, they will be providing a valuable illustration of how the private sector can become a key player in boosting small-farmer productivity.

Replacing imported barley with locally-grown cassava starch for its beer brewing has created a market in South Sudan for a crop that in the past has been widely regarded as a poor man's food and an insurance against drought. But the reward of a higher price depends on growing a high quality crop that can meet the brewer's standards. Achieving greater yields is also important, in order to maintain adequate supply, with the company keen to significantly expand its current capacity.

Fortunately for these farmers, SABMiller has been ready to invest to get the quality of produce it needs, supplying improved planting material, tools, fertilisers and pesticides, as well as an assured market for the crop to 14 farmer groups. Tools are communally owned, and can be borrowed by group members. Each group also has a 'seed for seed' agreement, by which they supply planting material equal to that received, to be shared with another group.

Cassava champions

Introducing new farming techniques has proved challenging, with many group members cautious about abandoning their traditional methods. Cassava plants take a relatively long time to produce a crop, so growers must be prepared to wait for up to a year to realise results. Language barriers and low literacy levels have increased the challenge, and government agriculture officers have only offered limited support to the project.

FARM-Africa has trained a team of 15 champion farmers in best practices for cassava production (© FARM-Africa)
FARM-Africa has trained a team of 15 champion farmers in best practices for cassava production
© FARM-Africa

Support has come, however, from a UK-based NGO, FARM-Africa, which initially facilitated the farmer-brewer partnership. The partnership underpins FARM-Africa's cassava growing project, which is supported by funding from the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund. The NGO has trained a team of 15 champion farmers in best practices for cassava production, including use of disease-resistant varieties, crop rotation, intercropping and soil fertility management. The champion farmers are now training the 14 farmers groups which have been established and which are already functional. With guidance from the champions, group members have also been able to investigate the new techniques through demonstration plots. Approximately 500 farmers have now received cassava cuttings.

The plots, which are around 70 metres by 60m, have been established in each sub-county throughout the project area. Each plot is divided in two, with one area cultivated traditionally and the other planted with the new varieties according to the recommended techniques. Correct spacing and regular weeding are emphasised, and the farmers are encouraged to try new planting methods, including horizontal planting of stems for rapid germination and deeper vertical planting to protect the cassava tubers from predation by wild animals.

By working directly on new methods with the groups, carrying out regular monitoring of their fields and making comparisons between traditional and new methods, widespread adoption of better farming practices among group members has been achieved. "Improved methods of cultivation allow us to use less planting material," says Emmanuel Kenyi, a lead farmer in the Mirikiyo farmer group.

Collective marketing

In addition to these steps to increase cassava production, FARM-Africa's project coordinators have also trained the farmer groups in business, finance and collective marketing skills, in order to get the best price for their crop. All 14 farmer groups that are working with the project now meet regularly, and have organised activities to build skills such as book-keeping and recording of sales. The groups are also serving as a useful forum for sharing information on potential threats to the cassava crop, such as water-logging and termite attack.

SSBL will soon be purchasing the cassava from the farmers for brewing White Bull beer (© SABMiller, OneRedEye/Jason Alden)
SSBL will soon be purchasing the cassava from the farmers for brewing White Bull beer
© SABMiller, OneRedEye/Jason Alden

Adding value to the crop is another way in which these former subsistence farmers are hoping to develop a more businesslike approach. Currently SSBL is planning to buy fresh cassava tubers from the groups, but is also interested to give them access to processing equipment, so that the raw crop can be dried and turned into chips or flour. Any surplus not bought by the brewery can then be sold in this processed, higher value form to local food industries and livestock feed enterprises.

It is hoped that actual sales of tubers to the brewery will begin in the second half of 2012. At the time of writing, a final price had not been agreed, but initial estimates are that the annual income of participating farmers could rise from US$300 to US$500 per 1 acre plot of cassava, thanks to the increase in quality and quantity of the crop, plus the higher price earned. Project coordinator for FARM-Africa, Stephanie Wachira, acknowledges the difficulty of introducing commercial standards of production among subsistence farmers in Africa's newest country. Despite this, however, she remains hopeful: "The long war period has made farmers hesitant to invest in agriculture," she says, "but as they begin to see the benefits, both in terms of income and food security this will change."

Date published: March 2012

 

Have your say

Good project but food scarcity is rampant in many villages o... (posted by: Nsubuga Francis)

 

The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.
Accept
Read more