Volunteers help globalize the African food business
Porto Novo, Benin: Food experts volunteering under UNV's programme with Kraft Foods Inc. have been helping African food businesses expand internationally.
Competition from overseas and a lack of investment mean that Africa's agricultural and food industries remain underdeveloped. These factors push farmers out of business, undermining food production and contributing to the current food price crisis.
UNV and Kraft have cooperated since 2001, sending pairs of skilled volunteers to offer food processing advice and training in countries such as Ecuador, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan and Madagascar. While Kraft funds the two-week assignments and selects employees to take part, UNV identifies local host organizations that will gain from their skills, such as the Songhai Center in Benin.
Set up in the 1980s and now operating in several locations, the Songhai Center aims to "foster an environment of creativity and innovation" so that African agricultural businesses can benefit rather than suffer from globalization. Dedicated to training and research on sustainable agricultural practices, the production unit at the Songhai Center in Porto Novo makes a variety of food and drinks, such as smoked meats and patés, fruit juices, spices, yoghurt and biscuits.
Kraft employees Paul Morin and Rodrigo Tarté spent two weeks there during May 2008 advising students on food quality and safety, focusing on new meat-processing standards and building technical skills among staff and workers. They also helped come up with ways to use locally-available ingredients to develop new products. These skills will enable Songhai graduate entrepreneurs to compete in the regional marketplace.
During the volunteers' assignment, the Porto Novo Songhai Center acted as a focal point for a programme involving 12 West African countries and five UN agencies.* Named Projet Régional Songhai de Développement de l’Entreprenariat Agricole (PRSDEA), the initiative aims to improve opportunities for young people and the unemployed through agricultural enterprises and the private sector. The immediate object of the US$4 million first phase is to build up the Songhai Center as a regional centre of excellence for the development of agricultural industries.
The PRSDEA opening ceremony was attended by the President of Benin, Dr. Thomas Yayi Boni, the Regional Director of UNDP Africa, Gilbert Houngbo, plus several other dignitaries from around the region. During the project launch, the Porto Novo Songhai Center showed off new meat and yoghurt products developed with the help of the Kraft volunteers.
Staff from the Center remarked on the good results. "Volunteers like Rodrigo and Paul serving on corporate private sector missions are highly qualified in their field of expertise, with solid professional experience," commented Agribusiness Activities Coordinator Sébastienne Dohou Thoto.
The volunteers, who both work at Kraft's Research, Development and Quality unit at Madison, Wisconsin, were also impressed with the people they worked with. "The collaboration and openness of the Songhai Centre's personnel enabled us to adapt our technical knowledge and expertise in a way that should get them closer to where they desire to be in the long term," they said.
Around 50 UNV-Kraft missions have taken place to date, and 91 corporate volunteers have taken time out from their jobs to participate. During April 2008, two other Kraft volunteers spent a fortnight teaching students in Viet Nam. Later this year, two more volunteers are set to share their skills at a chocolate factory in Maputo, Mozambique, and Kraft and UNV are working on developing the volunteering programme for the future.
Kraft Foods Inc. (www.kraft.com), one of the largest branded food and beverage companies in the world, is headquartered in the United States of America and markets leading brands in more than 150 countries.* Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Malawi and Togo; plus the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the United Nations Industrial Organization (UNIDO); the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).