(by Nazima Raghubir)
The region could be sitting on a pot of gold if it moves swiftly to transform its cassava industry into a major income earner. Cassava is well on its way to turning around investment opportunities for the better in some African countries participants of workshop on Hunger, Food Insecurity and Malnutrition heard on Monday.
Vassel Stewart of the Caribbean Agri Business Association believes that cassava can replace several imports that cost the Caribbean more than $2 billion annually. These include wheat, potatoes and corn.
“When Columbus came to the Region it is a fact that the Amerindians in Jamaica were already producing and consuming cassava, so why is it taking us almost 400 years to see this as an industry for development? The reasons are that one, that the commodity, yes it’s traditional, it grows well here, more importantly because of its potential, cassava is one of those crops that has the potential to produce a wide range of value added products.”
Those products can range from flour, dry chips and starch. But one of the major trans-formative investment lies in the brewing of beers from Cassava. Stewart said that Red Strip, the beer manufacturing company out of Jamaica is looking to produce beer from Cassava, a model being used in some African countries already.
“The potential for the brewing industry has become one of international focus, in fact Sam Miller which is the second largest brewing company in the world, a UK based company, has been producing beer from cassava since 2011, they started in Mozambique, they have moved to Ghana, and they have a plan by 2015 to be producing beer from cassava in 6 African countries… what we seeking to do in the Caribbean now, there is a learning potential, in fact the International Centre for Brewery and Distillery did a lot of work in developing beer from cassava.”
Investing in such a venture is not as clear cut as it sounds. In fact, Stewart pointed it out that it will need a higher level of commitment from government and the private sector as well as strongly driven policy.
“What happened in Mozambique and Ghana is that the government took a serious policy decision, the duty on alcohol beverages and beer is 40%, to get the private sector to invest, they dropped the duty for cassava beer to 10%.”
The cassava industry will have to also have to be able to sustain itself while churning out enough yield to keep up with demands. Stewart explained that in some parts of the region cassava is being produced at ten tonnes per acre but to keep up with a beer production market as well and a food market, production will have to stand strongly at more than 45 tonnes per acre. Among the other goals to be met would be maintaining a price that would pay those in production as Stewart said to avoid out pricing “yourself out of the industry… you need ten cents us per pound before we can talk about an industry”.
Stewart represents the Caribbean Agri Business Association, CABA which is based in Trinidad and has been promoting locally grown cassava and sweet potato as healthy foods.