| JOHANNESBURG, June 7
JOHANNESBURG, June 7 The seeds of prosperity for
some rural Africans may lie in a crop that has sustained them
with calories for centuries but has generated virtually no
wealth for their poor countries.
Cassava - with its starchy root used to make tapioca -
thrives in Africa's tropical climates, through drought or
deluge, but maize and other crops have had distinct advantages
over the hardy tuber. Until now.
Cassava can remain in the soil for a couple of years but its
main drawback has been that it has to be processed within 48
hours of harvesting or it spoils.
An unlisted Dutch-based company called DADTCO has developed
a processing method for cassava and dispatches a mobile unit
with the equipment to rural villages, so farmers don't have to
harvest their crop until it arrives.
The implications could be revolutionary on a continent where
much economic activity still centres on small-scale farming.
The potential has already been spotted by global brewer
SABMiller which has started making beer from
cassava in northern Mozambique.
"This creates we believe a fly-wheel for commercial cassava
production in Mozambique," Mark Bowman, the brewer's managing
director for Africa, told the Reuters Africa Investment Summit
"In the short term 1,400 or 1,500 farmers benefit directly.
We expect we can grow that up to 6,000 farmers as the product
grows," he said.
DADTCO chief executive Peter Bolt told Reuters that similar
projects are being rolled out in Zambia, Ghana and South Sudan
with more to follow.
"Our target is to roll out in 26 or 27 sub-Saharan African
countries in the next couple of years," he said in a telephone
interview from his Netherlands base.
MORE THAN BEER
And it's not only brewers that are focusing on cassava.
Unilever , the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods
giant, is targeting the root to make sorbitol, a key ingredient
in toothpaste and other products.
Unilever and some of its business partners are currently in
talks about investing in a starch complex to process cassava
into starch or sorbitol in Nigeria, which is the world's biggest
producer of the root and a big market for Unilever's 3 billion
euro a year Africa business.
"We are already in exploratory talks to source 100,000
tonnes of cassava per year for processing in Africa into
sorbitol for use in our oral care products like toothpaste,"
said Frank Braeken, Unilever's executive vice president for
It remains to be seen how far the "cassava revolution" can
go but it surely raises new hope on the economic and food
security fronts for the world's poorest continent.
When it comes to pure sustenance and survival, cassava is
hard to beat because of its durability, even if maize and other
staples generally have higher starch contents.
According to the International Institute of Tropical
Agriculture, 37 percent of Africa's dietary energy comes from
cassava and per capita consumption on the continent is close to
80 kgs per year.
But instead of being grown primarily for household
consumption, expect more cassava to be stored in the ground for
Almost like money in the bank.