Brewing Up Cassava as a Cash-Crop in Mozambique

The Success: Farmers in Mozambique overcome crop disease, lack of processing and markets to become profitable cassava growers for a major beer brewer.

The Integration:

  • Plant breeders develop disease resistant cassava.
  • Farmer network produces and distributes cuttings for cultivation.
  • Processor converts harvested crop to transportable cassava cake.
  • Brewer purchases cassava cake to make beer.

AGRA Partners: International Fertilizer Development Center, Dutch Agricultural Development and Trading Company (DADTCO), Instituto Investigação Agrária de Mozambique (Mozambique’s Institute of Agricultural Research);  Cervejas de Mozambique (CDM); Oruware Seeds and Corredor Agro Ltd (CAL).

Today there are thousands of smallholder farmers in northern Mozambique who previously grew the hardy tuber cassava mainly as food for their families—a routinely fell short of achieving even that goal. Now they are producing a significant surplus of cassava and selling it for a profit to a national brewery that developed the world’s first commercial cassava beer.

The work started a few years ago, when AGRA-supported scientists at Mozambique’s Institute of Agricultural Research (known by its Portuguese acronym IIAM) developed a new variety of cassava that offers improved starch qualities and 
the ability to withstand the brown streak virus that had been devastating cassava crops across the region.

The next challenge: because cassava is propagated with plant cuttings, not with seed, they needed to produce enough cuttings to cover thousands of smallholder farmers. Adding an incentive was the prospect that the Mozambique brewing company Cervejas de Moçambique (CDM), a division of SAB Miller, would work with smallholder farmers in to serve as suppliers for Impala, the world’s first commercially made cassava beer.

Two companies, Oruware Seeds and Corredor Agro Ltd (CAL), joined the effort to replicate stem cuttings. Then another AGRA partner, International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) trained a network of smallholder farmers to cultivate the improved cassava and distribute a portion of their crop as cutting to other cassava growers in their community.

The new varieties have been phenomenal. Aberto Pinto said with his old varieties he would get less than a half ton per hectare. The combination of the new varieties and better soil health management gave him ten tons. Eventually, farmers such as Jose Manuel were hauling in more than 20 tons per hectare.

But what to do with all of that cassava, which as a raw product carries a significant amount of water that gives it a short shelf-life?  Enter the Dutch Agricultural Development and Trading Company (DADTCO) and its mobile cassava processor, which was able to take raw cassava and process it on the farm into transportable cassava cake.

Ultimately, all of these element came together to create a supply network of thousands of farmers for Impala beer, which was developed to provide an alternative to home-brewed cassava beers that had a dangerous tendency to become toxic and deadly.

“I have farmed in the same place for many years and have never received this much money,” said Manuel, after earning $1,000 for selling 20 tons of cassava.

The Lesson: With the right support networks, smallholder farmers can become sustainable commercial enterprises earning money for their families and communities. In this case, it involved support for plant breeders, training and organization to establish a network of lead farmers, a processor capable of traveling from farm to farm, and an end buyer providing a reliable market to justify all of the other investments.