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Collaboration on cassava-based ethanol

Thailand has teamed up with neighbouring countries to develop ethanol from fresh cassava, aiming to turn the kingdom into a regional technology and production centre for cassava-based renewable fuel.

Under a programme called South-South Technology Transfer: Ethanol Production from Cassava, which is funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GIF), Thailand will be a focal point in forging cooperation with Vietnam, Laos, and Burma.

The four-year project, which will be launched next year, includes two pilot ethanol plants to be built in Thailand and Vietnam. The facilities could be developed for commercial-scale production in the next phase through a partnership with interested investors and banks.

The Thai pilot project will be located at an alcohol production plant of the Liquor Distillery Organisation (LDO) in Bang Khla, Chachoengsao, to produce ethanol from fresh cassava between 2012 and 2013. Next month it will test ethanol production from tapioca chips, and it has produced molasses-based ethanol in the past.

"The main problem for ethanol production in Thailand now is the relatively high cost of raw materials, as the price of molasses is increasing," said LDO director Ittithep Visessmit.

Tapioca chips are now priced at seven baht per kilogramme, compared to three baht per kg for fresh cassava, which also generates a higher yield for ethanol production.

"Once we can produce ethanol from fresh cassava, we will contract with farmers to lower the cost of raw materials," he added.

The pilot plant in Hanoi will be operated between 2013 and 2014 with capacity of 50 litres a day of E100, less than the 200 litres at the Thai plant, said the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, a partner in this project.

The National Science and Technology Development Agency will receive 80 million baht from GIF to help with technology transfer to neighbouring countries, as Thailand is more advanced in this area.

Thailand is the world's largest exporter of tapioca products, with annual production of 25-30 million tonnes.

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Cassava exports increase as China prices surge

Viet Nam exported US$638 million of cassava in the first five months of the year, nearly equal to 110 per cent of the entire export revenue of last year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Although the domestic price has risen to VND5,800 a kg, cassava is still exported to China in large quantities because it can fetch higher prices.

In recent years, exports to China accounted for about 5 million tonnes annually.

Viet Nam has about 510,000ha of cassava planted, with an annual output of nearly 9 million tonnes.

The ministry estimates the country's domestic demand for cassava this year will be 8.12 million tonnes.

Of that figure, 1.89 million tonnes are used for producing ethanol, and the remaining volume for animal feed and confectionary products.

Pham Duc Binh, deputy chairman of the Viet Nam Animal Feed Association, said cassava accounted for 30-40 per cent of input materials in animal feed production.

However, cassava is also exported so domestic animal feed plants have not been able to buy enough for production, Binh told Viet Nam Economic Times.

Le Khac Triet, director of the Viet Nam Cassava and Cassava Starch Club, said since 2009 cassava had become an agricultural plant with high economic value.

The price of cassava has increased to VND5,700-6,000 a kg, compared to just VND200-500 a kg in 2007-08 and VND4,000 a kg in 2010.

Farmers in central provinces have expanded the area under cassava cultivation, raising concerns among local authorities about forest protection and transferring to cassava cultivation.

In Quang Ngai Province's Son Ha District, for instance, farmers have cleared protective forests upstream of the Thach Nham River to grow cassava.

Ta Tien, acting head of the Son Tra District Forest Protection Bureau, said this situation had happened over the past few months.

In 2006-10, Quang Ngai had planned for 13,500 ha of cassava in 2010, but the area had increased to 21,000ha in 2010, and is continuing to rise.

In Ha Tinh Province, hundreds of households in Ky Anh District had also destroyed protective forests to grow cassava.

Triet warned that cassava had become a hot product and when output exceeds demand, the price could drop as it did in 2007-08.

At that time, it would be difficult for farmers to switch to other crops because the fertility of the soil would be eroded after three to four years of growing cassava, he said.

To resolve the cassava material shortage, the cultivation area should not be increased, but measures should be taken to increase productivity, Triet said.

Farmers in some countries have harvested cassava output of 40 tonnes per ha a year while in Viet Nam output is only 17.2 tonnes per ha.

Measures to increase cassava productivity include applying advanced farming techniques and finding high-yield cassava strains, he said.

He added that his club had found new cassava strains with a high yield of 40 tonnes per ha a year.

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Farmers chop down sugar cane to grow cassava

For the last 37 years, Quang Ngai province has been considered the “sugar cane metropolis” of the central region. However, farmers in Quang Ngai province do not grow sugar cane any more, but cassavas instead. Cassavas can bring higher profits than sugar cane. The area for growing sugar cane has been reduced gradually in the central province.

Currently, dozens of intermediary merchants are competing fiercely with cassava processing plants to collect cassava from farmers. Plants are purchasing fresh cassava from farmers at 1800 dong per kilo, and merchants have also raised the purchase price to 1800 dong per kilo. Cassava slicing machines have been running day and night, while merchants have been going to every corner in villages and communes to collect cassavas.

As the demand for cassava has increased, farmers have given up sugar cane farming and shifted to growing cassavas. In Tinh Tan Tay commune in Son Tinh district, which had been well known as a sugar cane area, 2/3 of the sugar cane plants have been chopped down to make way for cassava cultivation. People in the commune now rush to sell cassavas to merchants, though the harvest will only come in two months.

Nguyen Thi Hai, a farmer in Tinh An commune, said that last year, she sold fresh cassava at 400,000-500,000 dong per ton, while she now can sell it at 900,000 per ton. If she sells dried cassavas, she will get 1.8 million dong per ton. Hai said that farmers can have two cassava crops a year, while they do not need to spend much time to take care of the cassava fields. Meanwhile, sugar cane only has one crop a year, while the price of a ton of sugar cane is lower at 700,000-750,000 dong per ton.

Since the profits brought in by cassavas are double those of sugar cane, farmers have rushed to grow cassavas. As a result, sugar refineries have been seriously lacking sugar cane to process, while cassava processing plants have been enlarging.

According to Le Tuan Toan, Deputy General Director of Quang Ngai Farm Produce and Food Company, the company now has five cassava processing plants, including two in Quang Ngai, one in Phu Yen, one in Dak To, and one in Tay Ninh province. A bio-fuel plant that makes fuel from sliced cassava is now under construction in Quang Ngai province.

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East Java Developing Cassava as Substitute Rice

To anticipate a food crisis due to extreme weather conditions, the East Java Food Security Council (BKP) has begun to create a substitute-rice to replace the real staple food. The mocaf-based (modified cassava flour) ‘rice’ is undergoing testing prior to production.

“We have been developing it since 2011. We are seeing the results now. Hopefully, we can launch it by October at the Food Security Day,” said Apriyanto, the head of East Java BKP Food Consumption and Diversification Board, yesterday.

According to Apriyanto, the process to produce this substitute-rice was conducted jointly with the Jember State university’s Faculty of Agricultural Technology. Although it is a substitute the nutritional value of this cassava-rice will be no less than the natural rice.

The nutritional value of the substitute- rice—like natural rice—fulfills at least three nutritional requirements: protein, regulatory nutrients, and the same carbohydrate content as natural rice.

Apriyanto explained that in order to obtain the same flavor as natural rice, the substitute rice is a mixture consisting 30 percent natural rice flour and 70 percent of mocaf-based flour. “We even made it look like natural rice. The flour will be formed into grains the size of original rice,” he said.

According to Apriyanto, the same appearance of the substitute rice was aimed at accelerating the adjustment of its consumption. “People’s first impression is from its look and its taste,” he said.

Contacted separately, Wibowo Eko Putro, the East Java Agriculture Council chairman, said that the cassava flour was selected to produce this rice-substitute because of the high cassava production in East Java. In 2010, for example, East Java ranked the highest in Indonesia for cassava production, about 3.642 million tons per year. “The center for the mocaf-rice development contributed around Rp5 billion to the effort,” said Eko.

The development of the mocaf is also intended to reduce East Java’s dependency on wheat imports which amounts to about 7 million tons this year.

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From tapioca to biofuel

SWEET tea-time treats may soon find their way into your car’s petrol tank — a research team from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman’s (Utar) Faculty of Engineering and Science is studying the use of cassava, better known as tapioca, and sweet potato in the production of biofuels.

“Rising global crude oil prices has prompted the search for alternative energy sources to reduce the reliance on crude oil, and this has opened up a lot of opportunities worldwide,” says Dr Low Chong Yu, who leads the research team comprising students Lim Syly, Koh Cin Cong and Voon Meng Seap.

Dr Low says unlike fossil fuels which are depleting, biofuels are renewable energy sources, which can not only reduce air pollution and greenhouse effects caused by burning of fossil fuels, but also enable sustainable development that provides employment and improves economy.

Dr Low adds that the development of biofuels in other countries is quite advanced. For instance, ethanol as a biofuel is widely used in gasohol – a mixture of gasoline (petrol) and alcohol – in Brazil, the United States and Thailand.

Although the development and use of biofuels is critical, it remains unpopular in Malaysia — a fact that Utar hopes to change by encouraging its Chemical Engineering students to study the development of biofuels.

“Our studies involve using cassava and sweet potato as raw materials to produce biofuels; through fermentation, they produce ethanol, a type of alcohol,” says Lim.

Koh concurs and says, “Both cassava and sweet potato are rich in starch and suitable for the fermentation process to produce ethanol.”

He adds that ethanol can replace petrol and as it produces less carbon dioxide, it reduces the greenhouse effects.

Furthermore, the country’s tropical climate is conducive for planting these two crops, which grow quickly and have no special cultivation requirements.

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P20M assistance for cassava farmers

Cassava farmers in Cebu’s northern towns are going to get financial assistance from the Cebu People’s Multi-Purpose Cooperative (CPMPC) which is allocating P20 million to boost their production.

The said endeavor is in partnership with the Coop-National Confederation of Cooperatives (NATCCO) Party-list and the San Miguel Corporation where the latter is going to buy the farmers’ cassava products.

“We will help in raising that amount for our cassava farmers to boost their production,” said Coop-NATCCO Rep. Cresente C. Paez. “I recently met with our cassava farmers in Bantayan Island during the Harvest Festival and I witnessed a tremendous excitement on their part,”

Paez added that said financial assistance will benefit 1,000 farmers not only on this island but also those in Tuburan, Daan Bantayan, Bogo and Medellin as the expansion of cassava production in those towns is now being facilitated by the CPMPC.

Based on studies, each farmer will earn up to P30,000 to P40,000 per cropping season for every hectare.

Moreover, to facilitate the release of the P20 million financial assistance,Coop-NATCCO will tap the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) through the Cebu Credit Surety Fund.

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Company spurs cassava planting

Cassava (“balinghoy” or “balanghoy”) is staging a comeback in Negros with Ginebra San Miguel Inc. providing a ready market.

Farmers with standing cassava crops from Cauayan, Sipalay and Hinobaan have so far supplied the company’s distillery in Bago City, Negros Occidental with over 290,000 kilos of dried cassava chips.

The distillery needs four million kilos of dried cassava chips monthly as raw material for its alcohol production, said Joel Guevarra of GSMI. However, due to the current lack of supply of quality chips coming from Negros, GSMI has to source its needs from Mindanao, Thailand and Vietnam.

Ginebra procures its Negros supply in tandem with its accredited local assemblers. These assemblers, in turn, source the chips by inking a Production and Purchase Agreement, with local farmers possessing idle lands.

GSMI is specifically tapping idle lands to provide additional income and livelihood opportunities for rural folks, Guevarra said.

Under the PPA, the assemblers provide farmers with free cassava planting materials, and commit to buy their produce in dried chips form not lower than a guaranteed minimum price which they agree on and set prior to actual planting. Farmers are also given training on sound cassava farming practices, and soil conservation in support of sustainable agriculture.

If the prevailing market price of dried chips is higher than the set minimum purchase price come harvest time, farmers give GSMI’s assemblers the first option to buy the chips at the prevailing price before they sell to the open market. Farmers may also opt to sell their chips directly to Ginebra which the company buys at P8 per kilo delivered to its Bago City distillery.

Over a hundred farmers with idle lands from Southern Negros have already entered into the agreement since its introduction last year. Their first harvest is expected by the coming third quarter.

GSMI is anticipating a further increase in the number beneficiaries with the addition of at least 600 hectares set to be planted with cassava beginning this May. This includes idle lands in Silay City, EB Magalona and Hinigaran, Negros Occidental; Basay, Bayawan and Sta. Catalina in Negros Oriental.

Meanwhile, harvest is ongoing in the company’s demonstration farms located in Victorias, Bago City, Pontevedra, Talisay and Candoni. Similar farms were also opened recently in San Carlos City and the municipality of San Lorenzo in Guimaras. These farms were planted with the popular food grade Golden Yellow variety along with the industrial-grade KU50 and Rayong 5 originally from Thailand. Average fresh tubers yield in these demo farms are at 20,000 kilos per hectare.

GSM is inviting other farmers with idle lands from Cadiz City, Negros Occidental down South to Siaton, Negros Oriental to partner with their accredited assemblers in growing cassava. The company has already started distributing free planting materials among listed participants in preparation for the start of the planting season this May and June.

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