Cassava, a widely grown but underutilised root crop in Africa, boasts significant commercial potential. It can be processed into various products, including cassava flour, starch, ethanol, and glucose syrup. Particularly, its gluten-free flour presents substantial opportunities in the health and wellness sector.
In this article, we spotlight six African companies tapping into the economic potential of cassava.
- Supplying cassava products to Nestlé and Unilever: How a Nigerian entrepreneur built her agri-processing business
Yemisi Iranloye conceived the idea for Psaltry International, a cassava processing company, in 2005. She was then an employee at a firm where she worked extensively with cassava, gaining insight into the crop’s commercial potential. Iranloye began purchasing her first plot of land in instalments while still employed, subsequently developing it into a farm and factory. Psaltry International, now, produces food-grade starch, and high-quality cassava flour, and boasts Nigeria’s first cassava-based sorbitol factory. The company grows its own cassava, but also sources from local smallholder farmers. The food-grade starch, with nearly 300 applications in the food industry, is primarily used by beverage companies and for seasoning, noodles, and pastries. Sorbitol, being a healthier sweetener than cane syrup, is used in toothpaste, pharmaceutical drugs, and high-end drinks. The company’s clientele includes Unilever, Nestlé, Nigerian Breweries, and Promasidor, among others.
- Industrialisation of cassava in East Africa: Investor identifies gaps in the market
Agriculture-focused private equity firm Pearl Capital Partners, manager of the Yield Uganda Investment Fund, sees growth potential in the cassava value chain in Uganda. In 2021, the firm invested $2.5 million in cassava producer Pura Organic Agro Tech Ltd to set up a vertically integrated cassava processing plant to produce high-quality cassava flour, tapioca starch (an industrial input used in the packaging industry) and sago (an edible starch delicacy popular in India). “Uganda has a natural advantage when it comes to the production of cassava, in terms of its soil and its climate. The opportunity presented to Yield Fund was to commercialise and industrialise cassava and, in the process, uplift the living standards of smallholder farmers in Uganda with around 1.6 million households dependent on cassava for their livelihoods. We want to play a role in changing cassava from a food security crop into a cash crop,” said Wanjohi Ndagu, a partner at Pearl Capital Partners.
- Ghanaian entrepreneur capitalises on the demand for processed cassava products
Janet Gyimah-Kessie launched Josma Agro Industries after beginning cassava cultivation in Ghana under a local initiative. Initially faced with a lack of buyers for her fresh cassava, she turned to process the crop into garri, starting in a local kitchen with just eight ovens. Over time, Gyimah-Kessie grew the business, registering it in 2004 and securing government grants and private funding for quality equipment. Today, Josma supplies its products to bulk buyers and is poised to enter the direct export market. The company is also increasing its high-quality cassava flour production, expecting a larger market due to its industrial applications.
- Could Nigerian cassava become the US’s next food trend?
Established in 2018 by Nigerian native Dr Tony Bello, US-based Shine Bridge Global focuses on creating products from Nigerian cassava. The company primarily transforms high-quality cassava flour into instant tapioca flakes, which have similar uses to potato flakes in commercial food production. It’s also developing cassava-derived products such as crackers, pizza crusts, ready-mix fufu, fried snacks, and flatbreads using these flakes. Shine Bridge Global plans to trial launch its tapioca flakes and packaged goods in the US and UK soon, with intentions to gradually expand production and distribute to consumer goods companies and marketers.
- Cassava in the mix: Food entrepreneur spots business potential in the gluten-free market
Mary Karoki, CEO of Onja Foods in Kenya, produces Uji, a unique gluten-free flour, catering to growing health concerns and dietary needs. The company, which sources raw materials like cassava from local farmers, offers gluten-free products and freshly baked wheat-free pastries. Karoki, who began Onja as a side hustle while running a cleaning business, also shares gluten-free recipes via YouTube, promoting healthier lifestyles
- Harnessing Cassava’s Potential in Zambia’s industrial sector
Premiercon Starch Company Limited, established by Lubasi Yuyi, manufactures starch from cassava and sweet potato in Zambia’s North-Western Province. Yuyi, previously a provincial lands officer, recognised the potential of cassava-derived starch for use in mining processes, paper production, and cardboard packaging. From 2013 to 2015, the company concentrated on creating an out-grower scheme, growing superior cassava varieties with higher starch yields and faster maturation periods. Despite encountering funding difficulties and delays in constructing the processing plant, Premiercon now boasts a daily capacity of 48 tonnes. The company caters to customers in the construction and packaging sectors, with plans to increase production volumes to supply mining houses.