Pawa to the people: how SP Brewery’s Cassava Project is changing lives


SP Brewery’s use of locally sourced cassava to make its Pawa Punch brew, has been hailed for its sustainability. Corporate Affairs Manager John Nilkare talks about the award-winning project.

Nancy Gah from SP Brewery accepting the 2019 Innovation PNG Award for Large Organisations from NCD Governor Powes Parkop (left) and Judging Panel Chair, Pete Williams from Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge. Credit: Rocky Roe/BAI

In Papua New Guinea, cassava is known as the ‘Rambo crop’ because it grows all year round, through both the wet and dry seasons. It is now empowering smallholders and farmers thanks to SP Brewery, which is using the plant in the brewing of its latest product, Pawa Punch – a brew aimed at PNG’s grassroots market.

‘We researched it and cassava crop is the best source for us.’

‘About 450 small holder farmers are coming on board and supplying our factory,’ says SP Brewery’s Corporate Affairs Manager John Nilkare. ‘We plan to scale that up from 450 to 2000 over the course of the next three years, so that is a boost for the communities in the Markham Valley area.’

The project seems to be moving along as planned. Nilkare says that ‘we have over 200 registered farmers. We have already commence buying roots from the smallholders and this will increase as time passes.’

This local-first approach won SP Brewery the inaugural Innovation PNG award (Large Organisation) late last year. Nilkare says that he is proud to be helping locals. ‘It is a local sourcing project, and sustainability is embedded in our culture,’ he says.

Change is brewing

SP Brewery’s cassava drink, Pawa Punch. Credit: SP Brewery

SP Brewery was bought by Heineken in 2015 and the parent company has a track record of using local, non-traditional brewing ingredients, including rice, sorghum and cassava from Jamaica.

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Its cassava processing plant in Erap in the Markham Valley is the first of its kind and it has ‘been a labour of love for all of those involved’.

‘We researched it and cassava crop is the best source for us,’ Nilkare says. ‘It has got great starch content and all the ingredients that we need to produce a quality brew.’

Chief Executive Ed Weggemans told Business Advantage PNG that Pawa Punch is a ‘unique PNG recipe’ that is designed to compete with home brews and fruit wines, which are popular in PNG.

Accordingly, it is a low priced product. He said that sales in the first year of production were ‘beyond expectations’ which put pressure on stock levels.

He said that the company is looking at other ways of broadening their offerings in the PNG market.

‘We will continue to look for opportunities to develop new and innovative products.’

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