Zambian cassava farmer Delphister Chilambwe. PHOTO: Langmead & Baker Ltd

JOHANNESBURG - Zambian Breweries' project to source cassava for its affordable lager from small scale farmers is set to reach 5,000 producers in the southern African country  by the end of this year.

The local unit of AB InBev started the initiative in Zambia's Luapula province in 2016, with just 1,000 small scale farmers, and now provides a market and livelihoods for more than 4,000 farmers, such as Delphister Chilambwe from Mansa. 

Chilambwe, who started off growing a hectare of cassava for the brewer, used some of her proceeds towards building a new house.

The cassava project has given small-scale farmers a sense of empowerment, and instead of having to export their produce themselves, Zambian Breweries has made it easier for them to sell it locally through a partnership with GroAfrica’s depots, she said.

"It was tedious and time consuming to peel and soak cassava to make it ready for export. Zambian Breweries makes business convenient as we simply peel, cut into sizeable pieces and take our dried cassava to the depots,” Chilambwe said, adding that she preferred growing cassava to maize (corn) as it required little to no fertiliser and was resistant to drought.

"The cuttings we receive are usually treated and fertiliser is applied once. What is left is just to weed our cassava crops after planting and that’s it. But for maize, you would need to apply both basal and top dressing fertilisers and the lack of applying either of them has the ability to destroy maize yield,” she said.

Zambian Breweries has invested in technology and research to come up with a new production method allowing it to boost the content of cassava in its affordable Eagle Lager. The beer previously contained 60 percent sorghum, 30 percent sucrose, and 10 percent cassava, but the new technique has enabled the company to modify the recipe, which now consists of 60 percent sorghum and 40 percent cassava.

Zambian Breweries’ long term goal is ensure that its value chain boosts sustainable socio-economic growth and promotes crop diversification,, the company's country director Jose Moran said .

"Our dream is to bring different small-scale farmers like Delphister together to create better communities and for a stronger economy driven by agriculture,” said Moran.

"We aim to increase the number of registered farmers in the project to 5,000 by the end of 2018."

Corporate affairs director Ezekiel Sekele said the company assured small scale farmers of a sustained market for their cassava and was looking to roll out the project to more areas.

Zambia, Africa's second largest producer of copper, is keen to diversify the economy to reduce its reliance on the metal, and has singled out agriculture as a key sector in this regard.

- African News Agency (ANA)