Cassava is a woody shrub with a starchy edible root which grows in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. The root has a brown fibrous skin and snowy white interior flesh. This versatile root, native to Brazil, can be boiled, baked, steamed, grilled, fried or mashed and goes by many other names such as yuca, manioc, mandioca, yucca root. To Americans it is better known as tapioca. Because of cassava’s short shelf-life after harvest, a mobile processing unit was developed to address the issue of spoilage.
The unit was rolled out in a few African countries.
Millions of people depend on cassava as a staple part of their diets in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is mainly grown by poor farmers, many of them women, often on marginal land. For those people and their families, cassava had been vital for both food security and income generation.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has promoted cassava’s potential to move from its status as “a poor people’s food into a 21st century crop”, pointing out that trials have shown that higher yield can be achieved everywhere, from Vietnam to Colombia.
International investors have also taken a liking to the cassava in several African countries. For instance, in Mozambique, www.freshfruitportal.com looked at how commercial practices and technology have transformed the prospects of this starch-rich tuber.
Under the title ‘the cassava revolution’, private firms in Mozambique have in recent years attempted to rapidly commercialise the production of cassava which is the country’s key subsistence crop, according to the freshfruit portal.
“The idea is to create more efficient supply chains for small and medium-size producers in order to feed growing private demand for cassava in products such as beer, processed food and ethanol,” it says.
In Nigeria, more than 38 million tons of fresh cassava roots are produced each year – apparently the largest harvest in the world.
However, the crop is not widely grown there for commercial markets given its short life-span. Deterioration begins within 48 hours, making it difficult for processing companies to collect and process the tubers.
Autonomous Mobile Processing Unit (AMPU)
Peter Bolt, founder of the Dutch Agricultural Development & Trading Company (DADTCO), has addressed the issue of cassava spoilage by developing new technology that brings the cassava processing factory to the farmers – the Autonomous Mobile Processing Unit (AMPU).
DADTCO’s aim is to improve rural development by creating guaranteed markets for crops grown by smallholder farmers.
The patented AMPU is an integrated mobile cassava root processing plant housed in a modified 13m container with a self-contained power supply. It can be moved to the different areas where the cassava is produced and normally stays at a particular site for three to four months before moving to the next village.
The technology processes perishable cassava roots into a high-quality ‘cake’, an intermediate product containing 45% to 50% less water than the roots which can be stored for six months. This mobile unit also significantly lowers the cost of transporting cassava.
Once the cassava root has been sourced from smallholder farmers, processing takes place within 24 hours of harvesting. Processing in the AMPU starts with washing and peeling the roots, followed by chopping, rasping and de-watering, before producing the cassava cake.
Trucks then transport the cake to a centralised drying and refinery plant, also known as a flash dryer, for further processing, as well as to syrup plants or breweries.
Cassava cake can be used in numerous agricultural and industrial products, including SABMiller’s Impala beer, a new product that currently uses all the cassava cake produced by DADTCO in Mozambique. DADTCO is operating AMPUs in Ghana, Nigeria and Mozambique, and is planning to roll it out to 27 other African countries.
AMPU for brewing beer
Last year, the Modern Ghana Daily Guide reported that the country’s Accra brewery launched cassava beer.
The beer, which sells at GH¢1.20 (33USc/R4) per bottle resulted from several years of research to overcome challenges of processing and brewing cassava.
According to the Daily Guide, DADTCO Cassava Processing Ghana Ltd and Accra Brewery Ltd (ABL) brews cassava bought from over 1,500 farmers, instead of from commercial suppliers.
“Owing to the annual surplus in cassava production of about 40%, which fails to get to the market due to the rapid deterioration of cassava and its high water content, SABMiller, an international brewer and mother company of ABL, in partnership with DADTCO, found a way of brewing cassava into beer,” Daily Guide reported.
Accra Brewery is the second brewery in the SABMiller group to launch a cassava beer, after Mozambique in 2011.
This project is part of SABMiller’s ‘Farming Better Future’ programme which comprises agricultural programmes across Africa.
Gregory Metcalf, managing director of ABL, said the initiative will create a ‘virtuous circle’ in which consumers will be able to afford high quality beer and offer smallholder cassava farmers a guaranteed market for their produce.
ABL is also the producer of Chibuku Shake Shake, a replica of a local Ghanaian drink made from sorghum.
The cassava project
The Cassava+ (plus) project (2009-2013) was funded by the Schokland Fund, which was established by Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS) of the Netherlands.
It was implemented by the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) and DADTCO with the goal being to provide a guaranteed market for smallholder cassava farmers. It also aimed at helping smallholder cassava farmers’ move from subsistence to commercial production.
The DGIS is responsible for the Netherlands’ development cooperation policy and for its coordination, implementation and funding.
IFDC is a public international organisation that focuses on increasing and sustaining food security and agricultural productivity in developing countries. – Aarifah Nosarka