Sorghum Beer — A Growing Staple for the Ugandan Economy
A pint of East Africa’s Eagle Lager Beer looks like most other lagers — rich gold in hue and frothy on top. But that’s where the resemblance ends. For this beer is designed to do more than just quench thirst: it seeks to transform a society, for the better, one glass at a time.
Launched a decade ago, Eagle is the creation of Nile Breweries Limited, a Uganda-based subsidiary of SABMiller. Eagle uses locally produced crops, which supports the region’s economy and promotes sustainable development.
Eagle is a hybrid beer. It is brewed from the fermentation, primarily of sorghum, and/or other starches. Sorghum is a member of the grass family that is particularly adapted to Africa’s often-intense climate. It resists both drought and intense rain.
Home brewing under controlled conditions is a common throwback activity, but in sub-Saharan Africa, the practice can be fraught with danger. Shelf life is usually short.
Commercial production of clear sorghum beer long seemed to be an elusive dream: its low enzyme content made it nearly impossible to produce consistent quality and yield. But if that problem could be solved, then Eagle could benefit farmers and drinkers alike by creating a consistent, safe beer that appealed to local tastes and nourished the local farming economy.
All it takes is science
Making that happen required an indispensable ingredient — science. DuPont Alphalase® Sorghum has enabled the production of a clear lager from locally-grown sorghum, that was cheaper, tastier, longer lasting, and safer to drink than the home-brewed kind. And this enzyme, too, had a positive impact on the environment. Because it makes the energy- and water-intensive malting process unnecessary, Alphalase® Sorghum beers have a fifteen-percent smaller carbon footprint than other brews.
Brewed for success
As its name implies, Eagle Lager has soared. The brand family — which now also includes Eagle Extra and Eagle Dark — now represents more than half of Nile Brewery’s Ugandan sales. And recognition has come from many quarters. The DuPont teams behind Alphalase® Sorghum were awarded a Sustainable Growth Excellence Award for brewing up the new enzyme. For its part, Eagle Lager was the 2016 winner of the supply chain category of the Guardian Sustainable Business Awards.
Other winners have been less publicized. According to The Guardian, 20,000 smallholder farmers have earned income from the production of Eagle Lager — beyond the tax revenue paid annually to the Ugandan government. And there have been clear social benefits as a result of the beneficial work that Nile Breweries is doing in Africa: millions of liters of water have been distributed; education scholarships awarded; and, in a country with tragically high HIV rates, farmers and stakeholders have been screened for AIDS, with support provided to those testing positive.
Eagle’s success promises to have widespread applicability. It demonstrates how sustainability can inject a cottage industry into the broader economic cycle — without losing any of its local focus or flavor. And it shows how development can be reconfigured to reward the people who actually make it possible, making a difference in their lives. As such, it may even represent a new model for development.
Photos on this page Courtesy of SABMiller