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10 May, 2017 - 10:45 By Kate Sweeney

AgriTech innovation breaks down barriers for African cassava farmers

Patrick Guyver Hamish Drewry

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 reduce unemployment. 

It is collaborating on the project with Cambridge mapping data business AGRIinsight.

Aspuna will be discussing its learning points at Agri-Tech East’s ‘Exporting Agri-Tech to Sub-Saharan Africa’ event on July 12 at the Future Business Centre in Cambridge which is 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.

“Aspuna Group’s social impact business model means that we are providing the country’s small holder farmers with access to both a domestic market and the world markets. Our processing activities will provide employment and training opportunities for Gambia’s rural youth; which has an unemployment rate of close to 40%.”

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 adviser 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, agroprocessing, 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 Cambridge Judge Business School and it was there that Maria met fellow agri-entrepreneur Patrick Guyver, co-founder of AGRIinsight.

The two companies will now be partnering in 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 said: “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.

“We provide clear, relevant and usable data that can be tailored to each organisation’s individual needs. The introduction of cheaper next generation smart phones will open up a new world of possibilities, enabling other agripreneurs to build a crowd-sourcing style movement to benefit all.”

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.

“We have a great line-up for this event, all offering first-hand advice on the Sub-Saharan market,” says Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East. “Whether you would like to establish an initial foothold, grow overseas business activities or just to learn about a potential market opportunity, you are welcome to come along.”

For further information, visit the Agri-Tech East website:

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: The founders of AGRIinsight, Patrick Guyver and Hamish Drewry (Credit: AGRIinsight) 

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