Agri-tech innovations breaking barriers for African cassava farmers

smaller cassavaAgri-Tech East uses real-life stories to explore market potential of sub-Sahara

Although cassava is an important part of the diet for 800 million people in Africa, shortage of equipment for processing has meant production has been unable to increase.  To meet this need a social impact business, Aspuna Group, is developing a cassava processing facility in The Gambia, to convert the raw material into starch and to reduce unemployment.

The company will be discussing its learning points at Agri-Tech East’s ‘Exporting Agri-Tech to Sub-Saharan Africa’ event on 12 July 2017 in Cambridge UK; geared towards businesses developing innovations in the mature UK and US markets, now looking to explore the Sub-Saharan market.

While Cassava can be eaten in its tuber form, it is highly perishable, making it impossible to transport over long distances. To make use of its versatility as a food and industrial product, cassava needs to be processed into starch and flour; increasing shelf life from barely 24 hours to up to two years.  

Maria Yassin-Jah, CEO, Aspuna Group says that the company’s business model will help it overcome this problem: “We are currently building a 2,000 m2 factory to process fresh cassava into cassava starch, internationally known as tapioca.”

As the smallest country on the African mainland, Maria-Yassin believes that The Gambia works to their advantage; logistics are not as challenging, and the relatively good road infrastructure reduces transportation time from the factory to the port.

Jelena Duza, Trade and Investment Advisor for the UK Department of International Trade says: “Sub-Saharan Africa is a diverse market with varying demand trends. However, major opportunities for UK companies are in crop protection, mechanisation, agro-processing, grain handling and the livestock sectors. It should be noted that smallholder farms make up the largest percentage of agricultural production in Sub-Saharan Africa, numbering around 33 million.”

Aspuna, gained support from the Judge Business School in Cambridge UK and it was there that Maria met fellow agri-entrepreneur Patrick Guyver, co-founder of AGRIinsight .

The two companies will be collaborating on the initiative. Aspuna Gambia will be using AGRIinsight’s mapping platform to communicate with farmers and record operational information such as seed varieties and production data, relevant to the development of the cassava supply chain.

Patrick Guyver, co-founder of AGRIinsight: “There is currently a poor understanding of the agribusiness ‘landscape’ in emerging markets and any available data is scattered in different formats. Players in agricultural supply chains all struggle to locate relevant, up-to-date, information to make better-informed decisions.

With access to a smartphone, subscribers to the cloud computing platform – such as agribusinesses, NGO’s and investors – can add their own profile, location, data and requirements. In combination with public information such as infrastructure, soil and climate data, the platform can be used to improve planning and coordination.  

AGRIinsight is also operating in Tanzania and Ethiopia.  Meanwhile, Aspuna Group plans to set up a network of subsidiaries with links to markets in Europe and the United States. Research has also been carried out to assess Nigeria and Portugal as possible next locations.

Aspuna and AGRIinsights will be joined by other entrepreneurs operating in the Sub-Saharan market and representatives from the UK Department for International Trade.

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