Thousands of small-scale farmers are benefiting from the 'grow sorghum' initiative introduced by Zambian Breweries, a subsidiary of South African brewing giant SABMiller a few years ago
The company has developed a clear beer made from locally grown sorghum. Up until recently, sorghum was used mainly in opaque beer brewing and clear beer was made mainly from imported malt, making it expensive for the average Zambian.
The Eagle clear beer offers a new market for a large number of subsistence farmers who for the first time have access to a sustainable commercial market for their produce.
Sorghum is Zambia's third most important cereal crop after maize and finger millet. The Cooperative League of the United States of America - Smallholder Enterprise and Marketing Programme (CLUSA -SHEMP) a USAID/IFAD - funded project helped the farmers produce a crop that meets standards required by ZB.
About 5,000 small-scale farmers are benefiting, selling their sorghum direct to ZB. CLUSA - SHEMP is also providing them with loans to procure inputs and implements, in addition to giving professional and technical advice on sorghum growing and how the harvested crop could meet quality standards.
Over 500 hectares have been planted over the past few years. Yields are in excess of 300 tonnes of grain with revenue totalling over ZMK216mn (about $43,200 or Euro 36,250).
Sorghum is traditionally used for making African opaque beers, which are variable in quality and have distinct flavours. In recent years, the use of sorghum for making clear beer has been successfully pioneered on a commercial basis and, importantly, the products retail at significantly lower prices than conventional clear beers.
The idea behind this ambitious initiative is to produce value-for-money beer for African consumers in the lower-income bracket.
SABMiller has adopted this concept and at the same time stimulated the farming communities in poor areas by contracting subsistence farmers to grow sorghum
In Zambia, small-scale farmers have benefited substantially from the introduction of this programme.
Eagle lager was launched in Zambia on April 1, 2005.
The success of clear sorghum brewing is changing the rules of brewing. No longer will breweries be dependent on expensive important barley malt to produce quality beers. Instead, with the support of the local farming communities and a cooperative attitude from Government , they will be able to produce more affordable products and positively contribute to the local economy.
In another development, Zambian Breweries plans to grow barley locally, a measure that will save Zambia's foreign exchange earnings and provide about K50bn revenue to farmers per year.
Barley is a major input in the production of clear beer and ZB currently imports the commodity at high cost. Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Felix Mutati disclosed that ZB would collaborate with the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives to carry out research in the growing of barley in Zambia.
SABMiller, one of the world's largest brewers, launched the new brand with the aim of helping African sorghum beer drinkers move up the beer ladder to clear lager by bridging the gap between the two.
Through Eagle beer, SABMiller has helped expand the sorghum growing industry and created new jobs in Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique.