Blog

Moms holding children in home

Strengthening Business for More Nutritious, Affordable Food for Families in Kenya

With more than 35 percent of people living on less than two dollars a day, access to healthy, affordable and nutritious food remains a challenge. Food insecurity has been further exacerbated by climate change, COVID-19, and rapid population growth. Simba Foods, a flour milling company located in Nairobi, Kenya, wants to help transform the lives of low-income families by providing access to nutritious and affordable Kenyan staple foods. “Through a low-margin and efficient business model, we’re able to keep production costs low and provide affordable food to local families in our community,” said John Mwara, managing director of Simba Foods. “That is our core reason for existence.”

Working alongside John as a PFS volunteer Client Lead is Niels van Mossevelde, a downstream processing scientist at DSM. For more than a year, Niels has been supporting Simba’s mission to provide nutritious food by managing several PFS projects including one for HACCP implementation and milling line equipment optimization. “I joined PFS to broaden my view on the world, help others, and develop myself personally and professionally,” said Niels. “It’s rewarding to help develop project plans for the client that will make a difference in the local community, and a good opportunity to learn more about African culture and business practices.”

John said that working with PFS and their expert volunteers has enabled his company to achieve global standards in food processing, staff development, and management. “PFS has been extremely instrumental in allowing us to put in place HACCP standards and work toward ISO certification. We received peer review feedback that helped us identify gaps and make improvements.” Furthermore, the project uncovered the need for a long-term review of the entire business. “The foundation we are laying with PFS volunteer support will help our company move forward from a small miller to a medium-sized miller,” said John, “enabling us to increase our capacity and help feed up to 25,000 families a day.”

flour on table

Ugandan Maize Miller Becomes a Symbol for Food Safety and Quality

 

Located in Uganda, New Kakinga Millers is a maize-milling company that produces, packages and sells maize flour to the local community. The company focuses on the entire maize value chain by sourcing grain from over 8,000 smallholder farmers from across the region and selling maize bran (a by-product) for local animal feed. In an effort to improve their food safety and quality, the company reached out to Partners in Food Solutions for assistance with setting up a quality control lab that would allow them to test products on site and apply for the UNBS Q Mark Certification – a symbol of high quality products. New Kakinga Apprentice Devis Asiimwe said, “Having an established quality control lab at our factory will mean a lot to us. We will be able to store samples, conduct quality tests, house safety records and more.”

Partners in Food Solutions (PFS) assembled a team of food safety and quality professionals to help with the project. Joining the team was Bühler’s Thomas Ziolko, a product manager with experience in online sensor technology and food safety for grain milling applications. Over the past several months, Thomas and Allie Tobin, a quality specialist from Ardent Mills, have made great progress in establishing the quality control lab. The team has shared insights on how to use specific testing equipment, best practices for handling test samples, how to set adequate targets, and effective ways to communicate with remote teams. Devis said his experience working with Thomas and the other project volunteers has been a step forward for him and the company. “The volunteers have greatly uplifted the performance of this company in regards to good manufacturing practices, and quality and safety efficiencies,” he said.

The new quality improvements at New Kakinga Millers, including the lab set up and a recent GMP project supported by PFS volunteers Steve Berger and Sylvester Asiamah, have been recognized by the Ugandan government, and the company was granted a UNBS Q Mark Certification. “Being granted the UNBS Q Mark is a symbol of quality and demonstrates that our products meet the required safety standards,” said Devis. The new certification also increases customer confidence in the company and helps the company gain access to new markets making them more competitive.

In addition to being a rewarding experience for the client, the volunteer team also shared positive sentiments. “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit two years ago, our company canceled most business travel out of Europe,” said Thomas. “I’ve missed having direct contact with our global customers and volunteering with PFS has been a great alternative for me.” After just a few team meetings, Thomas could already feel personal relationships developing. “Not only did I meet new people from around the world, but it also made me feel good to give back and provide my knowledge to a small company a thousand miles away who were able to benefit from it.”

Women holding silver bucket above head

It’s a Journey, a Challenge, and an Eye-Opening Experience

 

“I never thought I would collaborate with Kenyans and Tanzanians, those countries seemed so distant,” said Henrique Oliveira, a marketing director at Bühler. “Now my perspective of the African continent has changed completely.” Motivated by his interests in supporting small businesses in developing countries, Henrique wanted to use his skills for good and volunteer his time with PFS. In partnership with international development nonprofit TechnoServe and USAID, the development agency of the US government, PFS links highly skilled volunteers with entrepreneurial food companies in Africa in need of technical and business expertise. “I am from Brazil, a country that has experienced development disparities and have seen first-hand the importance of having access to knowledge and expertise,” said Henrique. Over the past year, Henrique has been volunteering as a project manager (client lead) with Profate Investments Limited, a family-owned dairy farm located in Tanzania, overseeing project teams, managing project timelines, and acting as a point of contact for the volunteer teams and client. “It’s a journey, a challenge, and an eye-opening experience,” he said.

Through his role as Client Lead, Henrique has developed a relationship with Profate Founder and Managing Director Feddy Tesha. “Henrique has been very helpful and professional in linking and coordinating volunteer expertise to help us,” she said. “Our partnership with PFS volunteers has been extremely helpful and we want to thank Henrique for a great job so far!”

Henrique’s favorite part of serving as a Client Lead is working with the people. Henrique also said that the Client Lead role helped him improve his project management skills and that they have carried over to his work at Bühler. “I’ve been able to more effectively translate technical advice to non-expert audiences, narrow down project steps and scope, and learned how to celebrate the wins and overcome project challenges.”

In collaboration with volunteers from Hershey and DSM, Henrique is supporting several projects with Profate including a brand review project and business plan project. “Through our group project work, I learned that Profate is educating Tanzanians about how to consume mozzarella cheese. I grew up eating mozzarella cheese and never thought someone in the world wouldn’t know how to eat it. Being a part of the PFS projects has forced me to expand my thinking and perspectives in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

In addition to serving as the volunteer Client Lead with Profate, Henrique has also served as the Client Lead for Simply Foods in Kenya. “Volunteering with PFS is an enriching experience that pushes you outside your comfort zone. Despite the challenges, developing relationships with other volunteers from around the world and helping the client improve their businesses makes it worth it!”

Man smiling

Q+A with DSM Account Manager David Montgomery

 

David Montgomery joined DSM in January 2021 as an Account Manager in Fresh Dairy for North America. In his role, David supports sales through commercial planning, training, and customer trials.

What was your main motivation for volunteering with Partners in Food Solutions?
I came to DSM, in part, because of the partnership with Partners in Food Solutions (PFS). I am passionate about creating sustainable food systems, and I believe I could have the most impact by volunteering with an organization with these values.

Are there any specific skills you’ve improved or developed while volunteering with Partners in Food Solutions?
The biggest skill I’ve been honing is active listening. The pace of the PFS projects and the needs of the clients are really unique compared to my work with customers in the USA. It’s been a meaningful experience to learn how to listen deeply and intently, and challenge my assumptions. I’ve even been able to transfer these newly honed skills to my day job.

What is your favorite part of volunteering with Partners in Food Solutions? My favorite part of volunteering with Partners in Food Solutions is working with people from all over the world, including both the client companies and other PFS volunteers. Everyone brings their own skills and diverse perspectives to the table and it’s rewarding to collaborate with them all to solve global food challenges.

Man smiling with hair net on

Virtual Workshop Addresses Food Safety Challenges and Solutions

 

In 2016, PFS simultaneously noticed two things in Africa: a need to increase capacity in addressing technical challenges at client companies and recent college graduates’ need for professional work experience. This observation led to the development of the PFS Apprenticeship Program. In 2016, PFS started with two apprentices in Ghana and has since grown to over 100 apprentices across seven African countries. Last June, PFS hosted its first Food Safety and Quality Apprentice Workshop with the goal of training past and present apprentices on safety standards in the food industry. Part of the workshop included a professional panel of food safety experts, including Weronika Strzyzowska, a quality specialist at DSM. “The workshop afforded me the opportunity to learn directly from a seasoned professional,” said an apprentice who attended the workshop. “[The volunteer panelists] provided guidance on how to identify activities/tasks that should be performed to achieve optimal food safety.”

PFS Human Capital Services Lead Yvonne Hormenoo said, “The panel of volunteer experts was very valuable.” She added that the panelists spoke to performance measurements, operations and management reviews, standard operating procedures, problem-solving techniques, and more. “Many of the attendees said the panel discussion was the highlight of the four-day workshop!”