On a hot August day in Malawi, I was sitting with Daniel Sandfolio, the manager of CMRTE Cooperative outside of the office, in view of racks of drying cassava roots that they will soon be processing. Daniel and I were discussing PFS projects and how they had affected his organization, especially the farmers that sustain it. Daniel mentioned challenges common to many of our clients such as access to finance, yet he surprised me by expressing concern about climate change and the increasingly dramatic weather events like drought and flood that can ravage a rural farming landscape. Smallholder farmers are the backbone of their cooperative. I wondered - how could PFS possibly tackle forces of this scale?
Flash forward to a mild October day in Minneapolis. I was walking the General Mills headquarters campus with PFS CEO Jeff Dykstra. Jeff and I, both being great lovers of the outdoors, discussed PFS’ impact on the environment. Our remote model is sustainable by nature and our office in the General Mills headquarters means we benefit from their focus on the reduction of energy consumption. I thought, there must be ways that we can reduce our impact on the environment. Our staff’s air travel seemed a natural focus area.
In 2019, the PFS team put 38 tons of carbon into the atmosphere through air travel to visit our clients and partners around the world. According to the EPA, it would take 49.6 acres of mature forest one year to reclaim these emissions. This is the energy equivalent to charging 4.85 million smartphones! Calculating PFS’ output was the easy part; deciding how to address it was entirely different.
I’m passionate about minimizing my own individual impact on the environment, but addressing carbon on an organizational level was something new for me. I found that it is common for organizations to purchase carbon offsets. Offsets are typically donations to projects that reduce future carbon outputs, therefore “offsetting” the carbon released by activities such as airline travel. Examples include reforestation projects, building biogas digester systems, and many others. These projects are verified by international bodies to have the impact they are claiming, typically carbon emissions prevented as a result of these projects.
With so many options, I looked for projects related to food processing and consumption in Africa. One project stood out: Cool Effect’s Affordable Cookstoves project in Uganda. It gives families access to a basic household necessity, a cookstove that is designed to use less fuel, like wood or coal. They save families hundreds of dollars per year in fuel costs. These stoves also limit the exposure to harmful open-fire cooking byproducts like smoke that is a leading cause of death in the developing world, especially of women and children. The project also creates economic opportunity in Uganda because the product is manufactured and distributed in-country.
By supporting this project, PFS offset 40 tons of carbon, equal to our 2019 air travel footprint, in a way that supports people and communities where our clients live and work. The cost was surprisingly low. We know that addressing climate change and ensuring a healthy environment for farmers and food processors is critical to our vision of food security in Africa. We are working to do our part.
After launching in 2017, Mushili, a Zambian pre-cooked and frozen bean company, experienced immediate success with their products. Mushili won over consumers by reducing cooking time from eight hours to just 20 minutes. With a steady increase in demand from customers, Mushili looked to PFS to help increase efficiencies in production and packaging. Joel Farmer (above), a continuous improvement manager for packaging at Hershey and PFS volunteer, joined the Mushili project with the goal of creating efficiencies one pouch at a time.
“The first thing I asked the Mushili team was how they prepare and eat the product. In response, they sent me a WhatsApp video of a person with scissors cutting the packaging and pouring the contents into a pan. Watching the video, I realized that the only way to open the current Mushili bean packaging was to cut it with scissors and that gave me the idea of creating a serrated cut that would allow a user to tear the packaging at the top.”
Removing the need for scissors to open the Mushili bean product was a huge improvement in its packaging, but, ironically, it wasn’t even the original issue that Mushili needed assistance with.
Mushili’s original packaging resembled a stand-up pouch. Although the packaging looked great and functioned properly, the product would often fall down on the shelf and improperly display the product and become susceptible to damage. “After learning about Mushili’s packaging issue at the retailer, I utilized Hershey’s ‘packaging display vault’ where we keep a large variety of different types of packaging – new and old. This gave me the idea of the ‘pillow pouch’ which is common to many of Hershey’s products. The pillow pouch is more flexible, allowing the product to be stacked on top of one another, reducing breakage and damage, while still looking visually appealing. The pillow pouch also uses about 20% less plastic than the previous packaging, resulting in significant cost savings for Mushili.”
Simultaneously, Mushili was also involved in a process improvement project that would make their product line more efficient. Joel choose to join that project as well to ensure that their process improvements would align with the packaging recommendations he was providing. “Mushili wanted to automate their processing line so we recommended a piece of equipment that was more efficient than their current process. The automated process will produce 150 bags/minute, significantly increasing their production per day. The quicker process will also reduce labor costs.”
Mushili has secured $65,000 worth of investments to fund the optimization line improvements that PFS volunteers recommended. “Our optimization project with PFS enabled us to define the requirements for equipment to optimize automation within our budget,” said Vaezi Chima, managing director of Mushili. “We are currently testing the pillow packaging that PFS volunteers recommended and once the testing is finalized we will send the dielines to our printing vendor. Hopefully this will start in the next couple of weeks.”
Not only is Mushili happy with the new improvements, so are their customers. “We have presented the new proposed packaging to our major retailers and they also believe it is an improved packaging for display. This has enabled us to widen our supplier base and get more competitive offers.”
**Update (March 2020): The product is in its new packaging is now available in retail (see photo below).