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No cassava beer in the making

Published:Thursday | October 30, 2014 | 3:50 PMChristopher Serju
Ian Allen/Photographer Minister of Finance and Planning, Dr Peter Phillips (left), along with Minister of Agriculture, Labour and Social Security Derrick Kellier (second left), unveil a plaque in memory of the late former Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Roger Clarke, at the cassava farm run by Red Stripe, in Bernard Lodge, St Catherine, during a tour on Tuesday. Looking on (at right) are: Red Stripe's Managing Director, Cedric Blair and Richard Byles, chairman, Red Stripe.

"IT IS not cassava beer, it is beer made with cassava as an adjunct and the starch is what makes the beer, not the cassava," Dr Damian 'Damo' Graham, head of the Local Raw Material supply chain, told The Gleaner on Wednesday.

He was responding to a newspaper report that the company would be producing cassava beer come next March.

Graham explained that the company is well advanced with plans to replace imported maltose corn syrup, which accounts for about 40 per cent of the recipe in some of its drinks, with a starch extracted from locally grown cassava. During the start-up phase, the company will use five per cent of this starch, aiming for a 20 per cent replacement in the medium term and eventually totally replacing the 40 per cent of imported corn syrup.

This was disclosed during Tuesday's tour of the 40-acre cassava farm in Bernard Lodge, St Catherine for which Red Stripe has contracted a Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute team to operate the farm, which is broken down into four 10-acre plots, using good agricultural practices to maximise output. With the national average a measly 14-18 tonnes per acre, already the Red Stripe operation yield is getting up to 70 tonnes per hectare.

Farm manager Dr Nikeisha Reid explained that this was due to the combination of good agricultural practices such as employ a greater planting density of about two and a half feet, as well as the effective usage of fertiliser and drip irrigation. This improved yield is key to ensuring adequate throughput for the processing plant which will be supplied by EBS Brazilia out of Brazil will be located onsite at the company's Spanish Town Road headquarters.

"We want to be able to operate the plant for at least 330 days for the year. Currently, with the pilot we only have it operating for about a third of that time, so evidently, the acquisition of more land allows us to get to full utilisation of the plant, so we can get returns on the investment," Graham disclosed. "It's a wet starch extraction plant, where we will take the roots that we've harvested - wet harvest by peeling, wet extraction and then fluidise dried and then that will make pure white cassava starch for brewing in our beer."

With the plan projected to be fully operational by September, the company is looking to the long-term returns on its overall US$1.3 million investment, as well as the foreign exchange savings, from its import substitution.

"It's not a sprint, it's a marathon, and we've been working on this for the last two years and are very proud that we've got to this point," Graham admitted.