The Sunbird Bioenergy agronomy team have completed the planting of a 400 Ha cassava nursery in Sierra Leone. This will provide high-yielding (virus eliminated) planting sticks for the out-grower program that we intend to launch in 2018. The long-term intention is to establish a nucleus farm and out-grower program that will produce 600,000 tonnes of cassava per year. This is expected to create economic opportunities for 20,000 small-scale farmers.
Sunbird Bioenergy will use the cassava to produce bioethanol for the European transportation market. Bioethanol is typically blended as a ratio of 1:9 with petrol and sold as E10. Other value-added applications for cassava include starch and high-maltose sugar (HMS).
Typically, the cassava is planted in the rainy season (May-Aug) and then harvested 9 months later in the dry season.
In sub-Saharan Africa, cassava is an important crop for small-scale farmers and out-growers. Institutions such as the IITA have played a leading role in developing improved cassava varieties that are disease and pest resistant, lower in cyanide, drought resistant, early maturing, and high yielding. A recent IITA survey on the impact of such improved varieties showed that on average farmers saw nearly a 30% increase in productivity. The role of the nursery is to multiply these improved varieties and provide the small-scale local farmers and out-growers with high quality planting materials.
To date, more than 400 cassava varieties have been developed for these resource-poor farmers. The IITA has also successfully developed a platform for cassava varieties preferred by farmers, with higher yields, more starch, a longer shelf life, and disease resistance.
The cassava nursery is planted in 60 Ha fields that are irrigated from a centre pivot. Whilst cassava does not normally require irrigation, the nursery is irrigated so that propagation and multiplication can take place for 365 days per year.