Cassava, a root crop that looks like a large sweet potato, is one of the most widely grown agricultural commodities in Africa. The roots can be processed into a variety of products, including cassava flour, starch, ethanol and glucose syrup. Cassava flour is gluten-free, which opens up opportunities in the health and wellness market.
However, despite the commercial opportunities, cassava is one of the continent’s least industrialised crops. The reason for the low levels of cassava processing is because the skin of the root contains cyanide. Once the root has been removed from the ground, it needs to be processed (or at least peeled) within 48 hours, before the skin will start to poison the rest of the crop. Poor transport infrastructure in rural areas makes it difficult to get harvested cassava from small-scale farmers to urban factories within the available time frame. Few people have also invested in countryside factories.
Here are six companies in Africa exploiting cassava’s profit-making potential.
1. Nigeria: Mechanical engineer capitalises on the opportunity to industrialise agriculture
Kola Adeniji is the founder of Nigeria’s Niji Group, a company that not only manufactures agri-processing equipment but is also involved in food processing, farming, the assembly of tractors and agricultural training. Through Niji Foods – its agri-processing subsidiary – the group has the capacity to process 100 tonnes of cassava daily at an integrated cassava processing plant near its 4,000-acre farm in Ilero, Oyo State. The company produces various products such as fine gari, odourless fufu (a wet flour paste made from cassava), yam flour, cassava peel mash for livestock feed and high-quality industrial cassava flour used in the manufacturing of ceramics and tiles. Its cassava flour is also used for making Maggi products amongst other items. Read our interview with Kola Adeniji.
2. Food company adds value to cassava using innovative mobile factory
According to Roland Decorvet, CEO of PhilAfrica Foods, a pan-African food company headquartered in South Africa, cassava processing is one of the biggest opportunities in the continent’s agribusiness industry. In 2017, PhilAfrica acquired DADTCO, a Dutch company that has developed a mobile cassava processing facility that can travel directly to where the crop is grown. This mobile mini-factory enables farmers to process fresh cassava on-farm, or nearby, rather than attempting to transport the crop long distances to a central factory. The technology is currently used in Mozambique and Côte d’Ivoire. Read our full interview with Roland Decorvet.
3. Young entrepreneur making tasty crisps from cassava in Gabon
Tuber’Chips is a food processing company, based in Gabon, that makes crisps from cassava roots. The brand is available in three flavours: salt, pepper and chili chips. A packet retails for 500 CFA franc ($0.9). The product doesn’t have any additives or chemicals. Find out more in this interview with founder Mariama Maguiraga.
4. Rwanda: Entrepreneur finds export market for dried cassava leaves product
Pierre Damien Mbatezimana’s company Shekina developed a packaged dried cassava leaves product, which drastically reduces the cooking time of this Central and West African delicacy. Mbatezimana sees huge growth potential in West Africa where cassava leaves are consumed in large quantities and there are currently few companies that dry them. “This is a technology that can be replicated in many African countries, especially in West Africa,” he says. Learn more about Pierre Damien Mbatezimana’s business.
5. Supplying Nestlé with cassava products: How this Nigerian entrepreneur built her agri-processing business
Psaltry International is a Nigerian company that produces food-grade starch and high-quality cassava flour. Food grade starch has almost 300 applications in the food industry and is used largely by beverage companies and for seasoning, noodles and pastries. Sorbitol is used in toothpaste, pharmaceutical drugs and high-end drinks because it’s a healthier sweetener than cane syrup. Psaltry’s clients include Unilever, Nestlé, Nigerian Breweries and Promasidor, to name a few. Read our interview with founder Yemisi Iranloye.
6. Burkina Faso: Food processing company adds value to locally-grown cassava
Faso Attiéké, based in Burkina Faso, produces fresh and dried cassava couscous (attiéké). The business made 542 tonnes of attiéké in 2019 and employs 50 full-time employees. “We work with 500 small-scale farmers from whom we buy the cassava. We’ve differentiated ourselves from the competitors through the quality of our products and our brand image as well as our and social impact,” says managing director Florence Bassono. Read the full interview.