November 17, 2023

AVCO Foods launches Project White Gold – The first cassava value chain in SA

AVCO Foods, co-founded by Zin Mabaso and Markus Fröhlich, announces the launch of Project White Gold, a groundbreaking initiative that establishes a sustainable cassava industry in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, the largest of its kind in Africa.

Leveraging their 25+ years in agroprocessing and 7+ years of combined experience in cassava operations across Africa, Mabaso and Fröhlich’s vision for this project is nothing short of extraordinary. Spearheading this local cassava value chain, they aim to cultivate up to 10,000 hectares of land and substitute up to 20,000 annual tons of imported starch.

According to Mabaso, AVCO Foods’ true passion, however, lies in economic and social transformation:

“Project White Gold brings economic and social transformation to the rural communities of Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. By establishing cassava production on this land, the project will bring life to the community while growing the local economy by an estimated R900mio per year.”

What is Cassava?

Scientifically known as Manihot Esculenta, cassava goes by many names – Tapioca, Manioc, Yuca, Mandioca. It is a root crop similar to other starch-rich crops like potatoes. Thriving in subtropical climates, cassava stands out for its adaptability to climate change, high yield, and resilience to drought.

The Secrets of Cassava

Cassava is a sturdy, easy to grow, low input, and high starch tuber plant. On average cassava yields twice as much starch per hectare, in Africa, as maize. Cassava does not create dependency on seed companies; farmers utilise stem material from the previous harvest to plant their next crop.

AVCO Foods

Cassava is a gluten-free, GMO-free starch, offering a healthier alternative to wheat and corn. Tapioca starch is also said to be a source of resistant starch that supports gut-health and stabilises the blood sugar, giving long lasting satiety.

In the food and beverage industry, tapioca starch offers versatile applications in processed meats, bread, ice-cream, dairy-products, desserts, biscuits, noodles, pasta, snacks, and gluten-free flour mixes.

These qualities make cassava appealing to the fast growing category of eco-friendly health products, while its binding and texture improvement capabilities, make it a valuable ingredient in enhancing product quality and shelf life.

Additionally, the brewing industry can explore the potential of tapioca starch in crafting unique beers and alcoholic beverages that cater to evolving consumer preferences.

The paper industry is another sector that stands to gain from tapioca starch localisation. With an increasing focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility, the demand for eco-friendly alternatives to traditional material, is on the rise.

Transformation through Localisation

South Africa currently imports up to 20,000 tons of starch each year. By localising the farming and processing of cassava, Project White Gold will trigger large-scale social and economic transformation into Mkhanyakude, the second poorest district in KZN. The project will cultivate up to 10,000 hectares of land, applying regenerative agricultural principles. It will build a zero waste, autonomous, green- energy cassava processing factory, and an agripreneurial training centre will capacitate talented local subsistence farmers to become commercial farmers.

“We believe that, through local production and processing of cassava, South Africa can not only reduce its dependence on tapioca starch imports, but also become a formidable player on the global market,” says Fröhlich.

Mabaso adds: “This local cassava value chain will provide market access for subsistence farmers, employment opportunities for women and youth and training for agripreneurs. Through shareholding in the farming company, the project creates meaningful participation for the local community of Mkhanyakude.”