SEATTLE — Barley is the most common grain used to brew beer in the United States and Europe. In African countries, sorghum in beer is more popular because barley has a low drought tolerance in Sub-Saharan regions. Drought-resistant crops like sorghum, cassava, corn and rice are more successful in southern Africa and powerful companies are taking note.
SAB-Miller, purchased by Anheuser-Busch for $106 billion this week, saw locally-made beer as a marketing opportunity for authentic African products in the United States. The company has invested $110 million in Nigeria in support of expanding the “local brew” sorghum in beer market.
This cultural approach requires local ingredients from African farms and reduces cost, transportation and greenhouse gas emissions. Smallholder farmers see profits from sales and are able to sell excess crops locally. The sorghum in beer market has grown into areas of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Uganda and Ghana. Thirty-seven African countries have partnered with SABMiller to brew, which resulted in Africa being the leading contributor to the company’s 2013 profits.
Alex Isiagi, an eastern Ugandan farmer, has seen financial success since growing and selling sorghum in partnership with SABMiller. In 2010 he said, “I plant sorghum twice every year and I use earnings from sorghum to buy food.” Isiagi now has indoor plumbing, electricity, and has purchased 64 acres of farmland since working with SABMiller.
HEINEKEN began using sorghum in its beers in 1989 for local Nigerian beer. In 2014, the company released its first 100 percent sorghum beer. HEINEKEN currently operates in eight African countries and employs over 100,000 farming families. The company sources 46 percent of its raw materials in Africa and hopes to reach 60 percent by 2020. This possibility offers African crop sustainability development for small farmers living in southern regions.
According to the World Bank, a 10 percent increase in crop yields equals a seven percent reduction in poverty. Investing in agricultural growth is an effective means of improving the quality of life for African farmers, where 64 percent of the employed work in agriculture. By increasing the demand for locally-grown crops, farmers can increase production and sell their surplus in order to ensure food security for their families.
SABMiller Africa Managing Director Mark Bowman explains how African crop sustainability is possible through investment. “Buying and processing crops locally whenever we can, for example, can reduce transport costs, shorten supply lines and ensure high-quality raw materials for our breweries,” he said. “By guaranteeing markets for crops and paying a pre-negotiated and jointly agreed price, we offer security and help create jobs, incomes and prosperity in the community and economy.”
– Kelsey Lay
Sources: Heineken, International Policy Digest, SABMiller, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal 1, The Wall Street Journal 2
Photo: Frontier Market Work