Our Peruvian brewer, Backus and Johnston, can now rely on local farmers to supply a significant portion of the maize it uses each year, thanks to a programme founded on trust and cooperation

Although malted barley is as fundamental to beer as the grape is to wine, brewers will often add other cereals that contain starch to make beer, such as wheat, rice, rye, maize and sorghum. Known as ‘adjuncts’, these additional cereals are used not only as an alternative starch source for fermentation, but also to add desirable characteristics to the beer, depending on beer style, and geography.

Another reason for choosing an adjunct is simply that it is grown locally to a brewery. Sorghum is tolerant to heat and drought, making it a staple crop in arid regions of the world such as Africa. Our Ugandan subsidiary, Nile Breweries Limited, launched sorghum-based Eagle Lager in 2002 and it has subsequently been rolled out in Zambia and Tanzania as well. 

Maize is the most important cereal crop in Africa. As one of the most produced grains in the world, maize is also a key crop in Latin America and is used in some of the beers brewed by Backus and Johnston, Peru’s largest brewer and part of SABMiller since 2005.

Maize - also known as corn - was traditionally imported by Backus, but since 2008 the company has worked with small local growers to source some of their maize.

When starting a programme like this the biggest element is to build trust between everyone involved.
Malena Morales | Director of Sustainable Development and Corporate Reputation, Backus

“Previously, the farmers all worked independently of each other as well as operating outside the formal economy. We had to get them fully on board with the commercial realities of the programme and the only way to achieve this was by being very open and coherent,” says Malena Morales, Director of Sustainable Development and Corporate Reputation at Backus.

Working alongside government agencies, a local NGO and institutions such as the IADB, Backus has provided training and technical support to the farmers, as well as helping them secure low-interest finance.

Most crucially, the growers enjoy the security of a formalised, contracted buyer for their maize – at first with each grower individually, and more recently through two farmers’ co-operatives set up as part of the programme.

Of the 80,000 tonnes of maize used by Backus each year, local producers now supply 16,000 tonnes. The Peruvian maize is in fact more efficient as it yields 10% more than imported maize because less is lost during the degermination process.

One farmer benefiting from the programme is Telmo Nuñez, who is part of the CEPROVAJE cooperative.  He explains: 

I have always worked my land, but today I am doing better than ever. Our harvests have increased in both quantity and quality thanks to the training and technical support Backus offers us.
Telmo Nuñez | CEPROVAJE cooperative member

Keren Trapunsky, Backus’ Corporate Social Investment Manager, adds: “The farmers are enjoying increased yields, growing revenues and improved environmental efficiency. Better still; the cooperatives have been able to use our contract model as the basis to diversify into other commercial crops, including beans, artichokes and quinoa. This means more revenues and the ability to rotate crops so their soil remains fully productive in the long term.”

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