Nelly Bassily | July 5, 2010
Mr. Alfred Mulele is the chairman of the Kazungula Agricultural Cooperative Society Limited, in Mushelekwa, southern Zambia. Mr. Mulele’s co-operative of small-scale farmers was one of the first to sell sorghum on contract to Zambian Breweries. “This initiative has proved that sorghum is a viable commercial crop that is also useful at household level,” he says.
Zambian Breweries realized that there was room in the Zambian market for an affordable beer. Most clear lagers are made with expensive imported malt. To cut costs, Zambian Breweries developed Eagle Lager, made from locally grown sorghum. This was good news for local farmers.
Sorghum thrives in Zambia. Mr. Mulele says it used to be seen as a “poor man’s crop.” Many small-scale farmers preferred to grow the more commercially viable maize. But since its launch in April 2005, Eagle Lager has changed the way small-scale farmers think about sorghum.
Farmer’s co-operatives have a contract with Zambian Breweries. The contract ensures a secure market and a fixed price. Often, the brewery provides advance payments. Because of these payments, farmers can purchase necessary inputs, like seeds and fertilizers, on time. These advances are repaid after harvest. Farmers commit to sell a certain quantity of sorghum to the brewery every year. The sorghum must meet quality standards.
The Cooperative League of the United States of America (CLUSA) is another partner in this venture. They provide farmers with loans and technical advice. With CLUSA’s support, the brewery gets a consistent supply of sorghum. Farmers learn how to meet sorghum quality standards, and gain a regular income.
Chris Hawke, director of the commodity brokers for Zambia Breweries, explains: “Farmers don’t want handouts. Our aim is to develop them into commercially viable entities – into our equal partners.”
CLUSA and the brewery encourage farmers to implement conservation agriculture practices when growing sorghum. They have found that practices such as zero-tillage and crop rotation produce higher yields and better quality crops.
Mr. Mulele says that farmers continue to grow crops like maize, groundnuts, millet and cowpeas mainly for their own sustenance. They “… do this alongside sorghum, from which they earn some income.”
At the moment, more than 4,500 small-scale farmers in 14 districts sell their sorghum directly to Zambian Breweries. More than 500 hectares have been planted with top-grade sorghum.
Recognizing the significance of this, the Zambian government recently lowered taxes on Eagle Lager from 30 per cent to 20 per cent. This is to encourage Zambian Breweries to continue working with local small-scale farmers. Similar initiatives are now being launched in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique.