Global Report

Global Report: Small farmers partner with Big Beer

SABMiller, others brew for Africa.

SABMiller Zambia. Zambian Breweries (Photo: Tom Parker/OneRedEye)

SABMiller Zambia. Zambian Breweries (Photo: Tom Parker/OneRedEye)

Where governments in African countries are failing to realize their agricultural potential, beer companies are stepping up to the plate. The continent’s agricultural production has the potential to grow from US$313 billion to $1 trillion by 2030, according to a 2013 World Bank report. Growth could be found in increased yields—cereal yields are two tonnes per hectare in Africa, compared to 3.6 in Asia—cultivating new lands or a shift to higher-value crops.

The recommended reforms are being championed by Diageo, the world’s largest distiller, and SABMiller, the world’s second-biggest brewer. In their pursuit of profit, the companies are harnessing local labour, teaching new skills and investing in more valuable crops, such as barley, sorghum and sugar cane.

The booze makers’ approach varies by country: Diageo announced last year a public-private partnership with the Ethiopian government to create a barley-farming plan, with the goal of sourcing the crop from smallholders. In Tanzania, the company is developing sorghum crops used to produce local beers, with special attention paid to training and post-harvest practices.

SABMiller saw its opportunity in Zambia, a country with a developed agricultural sector that grew a variety of summer crops, but mostly wheat in the winter, leaving excess land for another crop. In this case, that extra crop is now barley, which is brewed into beer for the local market. “Farmers had been seeking an alternative crop in order to utilize this spare capacity,” says Andy Wales, SABMiller global vice-president of sustainable development. When approached by the beer company to grow barley, he says the farmers “embraced the opportunity.” Cheers to that.