Dr Ian Robertson and officials from the Ministry of Power and Energy review the cassava nursery in Mushumbi Pools. The nursery has been established to produce planting sticks (seed) for Sunbird Bioenergy’s bioethanol project in Mashonaland Central, Zimbabwe. When completed, the project will produce 120 million litres of ethanol for the domestic fuel market and 15,000 tonnes of starch for the local food market.
The nursery is maintained by local small-scale farmers under the direct supervision of Dr Robertson. They are acquiring specific knowledge and skills that are required to achieve commercial crop yields. It is expected they will become extension officers and help train the out-growers that will be recruited for the project. Sunbird Bioenergy expects to recruit 1,000 out-growers in 2017/18 and will scale up to >10,000 out-growers within 5 years.
The cassava is intercropped with a virus eliminated sweet potato that has been cultivated by Dr Robertson. This is a highly nutritious crop that grows in 3 months, and is intended to deliver additional food security for small rural communities. In total, the project expects to deliver food security and significant economic impact for >10,000 women and youth who currently live below the poverty line.
The cassava in the nursery has been growing for 9 months and some roots have grown to a length of > 90cm. On average, individual plants yielded > 3.5 Kg of roots, which gives an implied yield of 35 tonnes per Hectare (t/Ha). This exceeds our expectations of 30 t/Ha and confirms that cassava is a viable feedstock for the commercial production of ethanol and starch in Zimbabwe.
The cassava root contains a high concentration of starch that is processed into both bioethanol and food-grade starch. The bioethanol and starch processing plants will be developed and operated by Sunbird Bioenergy Africa.