Agro2 Pioneers Ethanol from Cassava in Panama

Agro2 announces it will be the first company to research and produce ethanol from cassava in Panama, thanks to funding from FACT Foundation and the Global Sustainable Biomass Fund of NL Agency, a division of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“We are very excited about this project and are eager to stimulate cassava as a sustainable biomass source,” said Maartje op de Coul, Global Sustainable Biomass Fund Coordinator.

Dutchman Frans van Hulle, Agro2’s founder, has been growing cassava for three years, and is constructing a demonstration ethanol plant in Veraguas and will begin testing this year.

Agro2 is exploring cassava’s feasibility as a sustainable ethanol feedstock for the Panamanian market. The project aims to provide income for local farmers who produce cassava. Agro2 has been collaborating with local farmers, businesses and NGOs to research and analyze local and foreign cassava varieties.

The company, which is a member of CLAYUCA—the Latin American and Caribbean Consortium to Support Cassava Research and Development and part of CIAT— is organizing a farmer’s association to organize farmers for the roll out of the planned 1,000 ha. in the next 3 years.

Van Hulle says his goal is to become a sustainably certified supplier of ethanol for local markets. “In Panama, all of the fuel we use is imported, but what I would like to see is cars in Panama City powered by locally grown, sustainable cassava.”

Agro2 is a private Panamanian company founded in 2007 and is passionate about growing and processing cassava for export as well as for the local market and plans to start producing ethanol from cassava in Q4 2010. Agro2 uses sustainable agriculture practices and works to promote positive socio-economic impacts in the Veraguas province of Panama.

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Creating more markets for cassava

The Cassava Value Chain Development Project has again inaugurated a cassava processing center in Sierra Leone, bringing the number of processing centers commissioned under the project in that country to six, thanks to the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC)the initiator and financier of the project.

The center which is located in Walihun, about eight hours drive from the capital Freetown in the southern part of the country, will help resource poor farmers in that region to process cassava roots to several products including gari, and fufu.

It will also ease the pains associated with the traditional or manual system of cassava processing, says Mr. Olu John, President of the National Association of Farmers in Sierra Leone.

In December 2009, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)the implementing agency, and the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI), commissioned five cassava processing sites to ease the burden of processing, create additional markets for cassava products and more importantly generate wealth in local communities through increased cassava production.

The five centers were Gbotima processing center in Bo District; Njala Agricultural Research Center, in Moyamba District; Adamaris cassava processing center in Bombali District; UPWARDS cassava processing center in Port Loko District; and another center in Waterloo in the Western Rural District.

John said farmers were glad over these projects but added, we request for more to process and boost cassava production.

Beneficiaries of the project commended IITA-CFC West Africa for putting the project in their community.

Mr. Samuel Konde, leader of Walihun Farmers Association, said the project would turn around the fortunes of cassava farmers in the community.

We are happy because help has finally come, he said.

In Sierra Leone, cassava is a key crop because of its ease of cultivation and culinary qualities such as straightforwardness of preparation. Usually, the roots are either boiled or eaten in raw form. Cassava leaves are also a delicacy that is served with several dishes.

The project, which seeks to diversify and make more products from cassava, will allow farmers access to more money, says Prof. Sanni Lateef, Project Coordinator, IITA-CFC West Africa.

Our project beneficiaries now have the opportunity to process quality cassava products and make more money, he stressed.

Lateef called on beneficiaries to jealously monitor and to tap the enormous potential of the enterprises.

According to him, IITA, the Food and Agriculture Organization, SLARI and other partners will continue to train stakeholders in areas such as effective hygienic practices, equipment maintenance, and enterprise management to ensure that beneficiaries get sustainable income and nutritious foods.

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Impact from cassava price

Increasing tapioca starch prices will likely delay some cassava-based food additive projects, say manufacturers.

Domestic prices of tapioca starch have been rising strongly in line with costly cassava roots, as output has dropped due to drought and an invasion of pink cassava mealybugs. Starch prices hit 19.50 baht a kilogramme on average this month, driving export prices above US$600 per tonne, compared with 12 baht per kg and $400 a tonne earlier this year and eight baht a kg and $280 a tonne last year.

"Considering these high prices, we might opt to wait and see before investing in making cassava-based maltodextrin," said Chanchai Chaodee, managing director of Chaodee Starch Co.

Chaodee, a producer and exporter of tapioca starch, plans to invest 200 million baht to produce maltodextrin, a polysaccharide used as an additive in food and medical products.

Strong starch prices decrease the competitiveness of cassava-based maltodextrin compared with imported products produced from other kinds of flour. Corn-based starch from China is now 23-24 baht per kg, compared with 27-29 baht for cassava-based maltodextrin made here.

Cassava production is estimated to drop to 20-21 million tonnes this year, or 30% from the previous season.

The company, located in the Northeast, uses about 2,000 tonnes of cassava roots a day to make 500 tonnes of starch for local paper makers such as Siam Cement and for export to China, India and Japan.Plans to produce ethanol from cassava have also been put off until production returns to normal levels, he said.

The maltodextrin project received support from the Industrial Technology Assistance Programme (iTAP). iTAP has teamed up with the Suranaree University of Technology to provide technical support for the project, which plans to produce about 50 litres of maltodextrin a day.

The agency is also helping the company to turn cassava waste into bio-fertiliser.

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Davao region pushes cassava production

DAVAO CITY -- The Davao Region is looking at taking advantage of the growing demand for cassava, an official of the regional Agriculture office said.

Herna M. Palma, Department of Agriculture regional coordinator on corn and cassava, said the domestic demand for cassava has risen to five million metric tons a year and the figure is expected to double by 2014.

In some hinterland areas, particularly in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, the plant has become a main crop for farmers.

Ms. Palma said that getting adequate supply has gotten tougher in recent years as Luzon-based companies start to buy in commercial quantity from Mindanao.

Cassava is used for feeds, confectionery, medicines, glue, liquor and ethanol fuel, among others.

For food requirements alone, demand for cassava will increase to 1.3 million metric tons by 2014 from 654,000 metric tons this year, Ms. Palma said. For feeds, demand will reach 8.2 million metric tons four years from now, from just about half of the demand this year.

Norlito P. Agduyeng, regional technical director of the Department of Agriculture, said the increasing demand for cassava has offered a window of opportunity for farmers.

"We have a ready market for our cassava products, which includes San Miguel Foods, Inc., and other small and medium buyers. All we have to do is to produce high quality and quantity cassava," said Mr. Agduyeng. The government will help farmers increase production by providing them with planting materials that yield better, technical assistance and even post-harvest facilities, he added.

In a related development, Datu Gabriel Sayad, leader of the Council of Elders of the Ata-Manobo tribe, said his community has signed with a consolidator that buys cassava for giant food conglomerate San Miguel Corp.

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