How SABMiller is innovating in Africa

As a staple crop in the developing world, cassava makes a lot of sense: it produces a lot of calories from a relatively small amount of land, is highly drought-resistant, and can be grown in marginal soil. But there’s a big problem: cassava starts to degrade as soon as it’s pulled out of the ground. It’s also 75% water, which makes it costly to transport, so it doesn’t work well as a cash crop.

I interviewed Andy Wales, head of sustainability at SABMiller, for MIT Sloan Management Review, and he told me how the giant beer company is using cassava’s weakness as an opportunity to create a more sustainable line of beers in African countries.

SABMiller worked with a company that developed mobile processing units, which farmers use to process the cassava on-site. SABMiller than uses the processed cassava to make a local beer which competes with illicit homebrews.

SABMiller's first cassava beer, Impala, launched in Mozambique. It has since followed up with Eagle brand cassava beer in Ghana.

SABMiller’s first cassava beer, Impala, launched in Mozambique. It has since followed up with Eagle brand cassava beer in Ghana.

It’s better for the environment, because the beer doesn’t have to travel as far to get to consumers. It’s better for farmers, who have a new way to profit from their crop. And it’s better for the government, because it’s taxed. “It’s a triple win,” says Wales: “growth for the agricultural sector, growth for our business, and it’s better regulated from a health and quality perspective.”

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