Farmers of maize, sorghum and soya need not worry anymore about market for their produce as local fortified foods manufacturer is looking to double local sourcing of raw materials this year to increase production.
Officials at Africa Improved Foods (AIF), which is behind the Nootri range of fortified foods, say the firm is targeting to produce 45,000 tonnes this year, an increase from 35,000 produced last year as the firm targets the export market, according to Darshana Joshi, the AIF commercial director.
The plant produces fortified foods for infants, breast feeding mothers and the general population under its Nootri brand. Joshi added that they want to tap into the growing demand for fortified foodstuffs in the region.
Doubling local sourcing
The food processing firm's intention this year is to double the raw materials it buys from local farmers and farming cooperatives, according to Joshi. She said that Africa Improved Foods currently gets 5,000 tonnes of maize and 500 tonnes of soya beans from local farmers and cooperatives.
"The volumes of both maize and soya will now double to 10,000 tonnes and 1,000 tonnes respectively. This will also require us to invest more in farmers," said Prosper Ndayiragije, the company's country manager.
The firm currently buys over 50 per cent of its raw materials (maize, sorghum and soya) from the COMESA region as they cannot get the required volumes or quality produce locally.
Ndayiragije attributed this to lack of capacity among local farmers, saying it is one of the biggest challenges that affect the farmers' ability to satisfy the needs of the factory. "This has forced us to buy maize, sorghum and soya from regional suppliers to close the supply gap," he added.
The plant currently works with nearly 9,000 large and small scale farmers grouped under more than 200 cooperatives.
The officials said that the company targets to source over 50 per cent of the required raw materials locally in the next five years, depending on availability of the produce. The firm exports 85 per cent of its products to the region.
Supporting farmers to increase output, quality
The officials said the factory is working with partners, like International Finance Corporation (IFC), to support rural farmers and partner cooperatives, especially teaching them modern farming methods and different post-harvest handling techniques.
Ndayiragije explained that building relationships with farmers and facilitating them to obtain quality produce enables farmers to get premium rates, but also reduces operational costs since they can buy more raw materials from within the country.
"Supporting farmers to increase crop yields and also ensure proper post-harvest handling means that we don't require importing most of our raw materials from the region. Besides, importing maize or soya makes our operations costly.
"Therefore, the more we source locally, the better for the company as it reduces the cost of doing business," he said.
Joshi said the firm has embarked on strengthening innovation, product development, sourcing, as well as building the capacity of the people they work with along the value chain.
"During the first year of operations, we were focusing on setting up the plant and ensuring it runs efficiently. The next step is to develop more competitive products to serve the growing demand in East Africa," she said.
Presently, the company has the capacity to produce nearly 160 tonnes of fortified foods per day, and its production capacity is 50,000 tonnes per year.
AIF made an initial investment of $60 million (about Rwf51 billion) in 2016 in the local food processing industry, joining other processors, like Sosoma Industries, Sina Gerald Enterprise Urwibutso and Minimex.
Farmers speak out
Boniface Nayigiziki, the president of Koperative Jyambere Muhinzi Gisagara (KOJYAMUGI) in Gisagara District, Southern Province, said members have been trained on post-harvest handling and proper storage, adding that AIF has given them modern equipment that has helped them to increase yields.
"Therefore, we hope to significantly benefit from AIF's plan to double local sourcing of maize and other raw materials," he said.
He explained that the cooperative had, initially, signed a contract to supply the firm 500 tonnes of maize, but ended up sold the food maker 800 tonnes instead, thanks to better quality.
"This indicates that we have ability to produce and supply more. Besides, the standard market price for maize is Rwf210 per kilogramme, but AIF buys our grains at Rwf260," he added.
New product unveiled
The company, which is a joint venture between the government of Rwanda, Royal DSM, Dutch Development Bank- FMO, CDC Group Plc (the UK Government's Development Finance Institution) and IFC, last week, unveiled a new product, Nootri Family, as part of plan to expand its products.
The factory also produces Nootri Tooto and Nootri Mama porridge flours that seek to complement the dietary needs of infants and pregnant and breast-feeding mothers.
"We want to contribute more to the local and continental food processing and supply sector. We hope to achieve this through innovation and producing competitively," Ndayiragije said at the launch of Nootri Family. Officials said Nootri Family, which is a multigrain nutritious porridge, would help the firm achieve its targets, adding that they would unveil other Nootri products in coming months.
Ndayiragije added that malnutrition remains one of the biggest health concerns in the region, adding that they would invest more in food processing to help countries deal with the challenge.
Statistics indicate that malnutrition stands at around 30-36 per cent in the East African region. The firm sells its products to World Food Programme (WFP) for its relief efforts in South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Somalia.
It also exports the products to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.