Blog

Africa

A Letter From Jeff

As we closed our fiscal year in May and officially launched our 15th (!) year, our team, and many observers, believe that our work has never been more important than it is at this particular moment. With the uncertainty of two years of a global pandemic, growing inflation and now war in a region of the world that is critical to supplying much of the food, fertilizer and fuel that Africa needs, assisting local food production across the continent has never been more urgent. 
 
Last year we launched a new strategy that called for going deeper in our support of high potential African food companies. This means offering a broader menu of services to strengthen their foundation and support their growth. I'm happy to report our new strategy is already bearing fruit. This year, despite volatility in the global system, these high-potential clients saw a median growth rate of 21.9%  in their revenue and utilized an average of three PFS services during the year. 
 
To bring our vision to reality, we are fortunate to have both a seasoned leadership team based in both the US and Africa (averaging over 5 years with PFS) and a growing team of new African colleagues with the expertise we need to add value to clients and support our wonderful corporate volunteers. 
 
Our volunteers continue to show up for clients with best-in-class expertise - we had a record year of engagement with more than 672 employees from General Mills, Cargill, DSM, Bühler, The Hershey Company, Ardent Mills and The J.M. Smucker Co., sharing their time and expertise with clients, providing thousands of hours of support uniquely tailored to their specific business needs. Again this year, our volunteers have told us how much they value their PFS experience with a 91% satisfaction rate on our annual survey.  The direct and tangible impact of working to improve the food value chain in Africa is what makes this experience so valuable to volunteers. Jayd Kittleson of Cargill said  “I keep volunteering because I am inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of PFS clients and their passion for being better.”
 
A true measure of the value of the expertise we provide is the growing demand for volunteer support - up 34% last year - and our clients continued high satisfaction rate (94%). Adedayo Oshinnaiye of Graceco Industries in Nigeria told us, ”After several months, the team helped increase Graceco’s product margins by 10% and more than doubled our product’s shelf life.”
 
It's stories like these that illustrate the meaningful, relatively quick impact our volunteer experts can have on a company's bottom line, leading to development and resilience in the local food supply in the countries where we work. 
 
I was just on a call this week to discuss the overlapping crisis - conflict, climate shocks and covid - that have led to a spike in ingredient costs for processors and double-digit food price increases. Consumers in Africa, especially the millions of families living in extreme poverty, cannot absorb those increases. As I write this, the World Food Program has issued its highest alert for 'catastrophic' levels of hunger for two of the countries where we work, Ethiopia and Nigeria. Our work to strengthen local producers is an important element in creating sustainability and resilience in those food ecosystems. PFS has never been more important. 
 
Thank you to all of our clients, volunteers, partners and staff for your devotion to a more food-secure future for Africa and beyond. 
Three women smiling in aprons

From Home Kitchen to New Factory: Confectionary Company Receives Expansion Support

 

Established in 2010, Fastizers Food and Confectionary is one of Nigeria’s fastest-growing consumer goods companies. The company began by making sweets out of a home kitchen ten years ago and now distributes its products across the country to 26 different states and counting. To meet growing demand, Fastizers Food and Confectionary looked to Partners in Food Solutions for support in expanding their current production facility, from the parking lot to the processing area.

A volunteer from The J.M. Smucker Co., Christopher Ray, was tasked with supporting Fastizers with their facility design project. “I’ve been working at Smucker in R&D since 2016 and have worked within our coffee, Uncrustables, jams and jellies, and ice-cream toppings businesses,” said Chris. “I was looking for an organization in which I can use my educational background and engineering skills that I’ve developed
throughout my career to help in a meaningful way. When I heard about Partners in Food Solutions, I knew I had to get involved.”

Working with another volunteer from Hershey, Christopher reviewed the client’s current facility design and came up with a new design that would allow them to expand from one processing line to four while also ensuring the factory would be HSE and GFSI/FSMS certification compliant. “This volunteer work correlated with one of the projects I was doing at Smucker at the time,” said Christopher. “I thoroughly enjoyed applying my skills to this project and learning about a new company in a different country. Having the opportunity to network with other professionals at different companies was fun, too!”

Since the project finished last year, Fastizers Food and Confectionary has already made significant progress in expanding its facility. The updated layout is a significant improvement from the initial draft, and additional considerations for food safety, human safety, and the environment have been incorporated. Further, information on how dough temp affects the baking has been factored into the quality control program and the volunteer’s edits on the flow made it easier for the client to communicate with their facility architect on their desired plans. Fastizers Food and Confectionary plan to finish constructing the new facility by August 2022.

Women harvesting maize in field

Enhancing Food Safety From Farm to Fork

 

Born and raised in Morocco, Farah Varisco has a deep interest in unlocking Africa’s potential. Motivated by her desire to help others and use her skills for good, Farah, an analyst at The J.M. Smucker Co., signed up to support a risk assessment project with PFS client Seba Foods in Zambia. “In my day job as an analyst at Smucker, I can get really focused on my challenge at hand and forget about everything else that is going on around me,” said Farah. “Even being from modernized Africa, it can be a challenge to get the basics to people so I am glad I have this opportunity to help others and hopefully make their lives better.”

Seba Foods is an agro-food processing company specializing in the processing of maize and soya beans for more than 25 years. Seba works with its own network of registered smallholder farmers who supply the raw materials and supplement the crop requirements to produce a range of products including soya pieces, breakfast porridge, and corn soya blend (CSB).

“Zambia has its own unique challenges when it comes to threats and vulnerabilities so we’re in the process of gathering as much data as we can on their food safety and quality systems,” said Farah. “I typically do the analysis of our systems at Smucker and make sure we’re financially secure and sound. I’ve gone through quite a bit of a learning curve on this project since the country and products are completely new to me, but risk is risk and I am excited to be contributing toward improving food safety in Zambia.”

Although this project is not yet finished, the Seba Foods team has already learned a lot. “I’ve developed some good foundational knowledge around the creation and implementation of a risk assessment that we initially lacked,” said Teza Chika, quality assurance manager at Seba Foods. “A lot of information about how to go about it has been shared, to which some has already been implemented, but we are still developing the system to make it effective.”

The Seba Foods team said they’re grateful to have this opportunity to collaborate with PFS volunteers like Farah. “[The volunteers] serve as extra resources that infuse our work with the necessary experience, skill, and expertise that our institution may lack from time to time,” said Teza. “They bring about new ideas from their experiences that help our systems evolve to be more effective and we look forward to meeting with them every other week to learn more.”

 

photo of man smiling

Q+A with Smucker Volunteer Kenny Byers

 

Tell me a little about yourself and your role at Smucker.
I am a process engineer in R&D. In my role, I help prepare and run plant trials at our facilities. I am interested in making foods that are environmentally friendly and helping businesses improve food security.

What was your primary motivation for volunteering with Partners in Food Solutions?
I got involved with Partners in Food Solutions because I wanted to use my skills to benefit others and support a company that was committed to making food responsibly.

What was your first project like?
I worked with a client called Java Foods in Zambia that is committed to providing nutritious and affordable goods. I helped them review their equipment needs to make sure they were getting what they needed to expand their product portfolio to make cornflakes. I am familiar with the equipment, but it was fun to learn more about alternate applications for those machines which gave me valuable engineering experience.

Did you learn anything new?
I’ve been learning a lot since day one. I am learning new applications and how to work with people internationally. I feel better equipped to take on projects with international stakeholders after volunteering with PFS.

What would you say to a colleague who is thinking about volunteering with PFS but is hesitant to start?
I would highly recommend giving it a shot. The time commitment is about one hour a week and PFS does a good job at organizing the volunteers so you can focus on sharing information on your area of expertise. It’s set up so everyone can be successful!

close up of hand on test vials

Kenyan Business Finds Direction Through First Marketing Strategy

 

Located in Ruiru, Kenya, Interfield Food Testing Laboratories (IFTL) is a commercial testing, training, and consultancy company that is committed to offering quality assurance and quality control services. It is the only laboratory that offers specialized testing of all food commodities and their derivatives across the food supply value chain. Since its inception, IFTL has been executing sales, marketing, and business development operations with no marketing strategy that guides the team towards a focused business approach. IFTL looked to PFS and its expert volunteer network to help with the development of a marketing strategy for immediate, short, and long-term execution of their goals.

Working with IFTL to create this marketing strategy were two marketers from The J.M. Smucker Co., Ali Brown and Lee Lust. “At Smucker, our culture is what truly sets us apart and we talk about our commitment to each other and everything around us,” said Director of Marketing Lee Lust. “PFS provided the opportunity to put this culture into action by kickstarting the ripple effect of helping others with the knowledge and skills to continue to grow IFTL’s business.” Ali and Lee worked with IFTL to refine their marketing strategy to focus on key growth opportunities and how to capture them. They provided a strategic framework for the team and worked with them to build out both the strategy and key execution tactics. “I’m a mom of two young kids with a passion for growth and development for myself and others,” said Ali. “My favorite part about this project was the opportunity to meet the talented team at IFTL, learn about the business dynamics in Kenya, and apply my skills to a new field.”

Since the project closed earlier this year, the changes Ali and Lee recommended are gradually falling into place. “We are certain that the changes will be realized by the end of 2022,” said Nancy Kariuki, a technical sales and marketing executive for IFTL. “Ali and Lee epitomize flexibility, adaptability, understanding, and cooperation, giving IFTL an opportunity to customize a marketing strategy that is suitable for our company’s needs. It was a great learning experience for us and I would love to work with this volunteer team again in the future!”