With a massive investment of $60 million (about Rwf51 billion) and strict processes of doing business, AIF set new standards for both international and local investors. AIF was able to outshine over 100 companies that had applied for the Business Excellence Awards 2017. AIF was also awarded “Best Tax payer of the year 2017”.
Organized by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the Business Excellence awards at their 5th edition were handed to 10 companies in different categories last Friday with AIF scooping the grand prize.
In an interview with IGIHE, Africa Improved Foods’ Commercial Director Ms. Darshana Joshi revealed the secret behind the plant’s success, the award motivation and plans for greater performance in 2018. Below are the excerpts:
Africa Improved Foods has emerged the best investor of the year 2017. What was the secret behind your excellence?
Apart from the Capex and Opex investments amounting to $60 million, we had clear targets we needed to deliver for 2017 and we focused on them. It took us three years planning and building this plant, we started building this plant in December 2015 and production started in November 2016. Our focus for the whole year was scaling up production in this plant to produce products that fight malnutrition in East Africa, supporting local sourcing and ensuring that all our products are nutritionally fortified and available at affordable prices. Because we delivered on our targets, we were able to compete and win as the investor of the year.
RDB considered the impact of investment for the awards. What was the biggest impact of your investment?
AIF is an impact-driven social enterprise. What we do is not fully for profit, we have to deliver social impact at three levels. Our first impact is local sourcing whereby we need over 35,000 tonnes of corn and soya annually. We managed to get 5,000 tonnes out of Rwanda last year while working closely with farmers. All of last year we invested in supporting and training farmers to help them achieve even higher yields of the right quality agricultural inputs. We also support the post-harvest processes to reduce the aflatoxin level in their maize crops. With this, we expect to double the amount of local sourcing from Rwanda in 2018. Our objective is to get 50% of all agricultural sourcing from Rwanda in the next five years.
Our second impact is job creation. AIF has 300 employees with over 200 permanently employed. This is in addition to the jobs created with our suppliers, distributors and farmers.
Our third and biggest impact is on malnutrition. One of the key objectives we have through this project is to reduce the malnutrition rates in East Africa but specially Rwanda. In the next five years, Rwanda plans to half the rates of malnutrition and we are one of the key players that will help deliver this impact through the GoR feeding programme of free complementary food focused on the most vulnerable population –pregnant, breast feeding mothers and children aged from six months to two years of age –in Ubedehe Category One.
The products we send to WFP (World Food Programme) are considered as exports from Rwanda. So, we export about 25,000 tonnes of fortified flour annually and all those products go to refugee camps in South Sudan, Burundi, Uganda and Kenya. We feed about 1.5 million people with our locally made products and this has indeed impacted the economy of Rwanda.
What does the award mean to AIF?
It feels great to be part of this group of companies that are delivering great results for the economy. We are in our own way supporting the development of Rwanda which is very exciting. Any recognition is always good but this award specially is a great achievement for our entire staff. We like any other new business have struggles and successes and at the end of the day an award like this shows that our work is recognised, not as work per se but as something creating a bigger social impact. Most importantly it makes us more competitive for next year; we want more awards in other categories.
RDB awards intend to promote competition among investors. What are your plans to do even better in 2018 and the years to come?
This year, we want to double local sourcing. We are already working with over 9,000 farmers in Rwanda; we want to more than double that number. We have introduced Nootri Family as a new product; we are going to introduce two or three more products this year. We are building local suppliers’ capabilities and offer high quality training to our employees.
We are unique in what we do; it is not about competition, we are our own competitors and want to have a bigger impact. I actually want to congratulate everyone who was nominated at RDB awards. All of them did well in their respective categories and I really look forward to competing with them next year as well because the more we compete, the more we push each other to become bigger and do even better.
Rwanda is the easiest place to live, cleanest and structured, and this makes it convenient for us to work here though this does not stop here, we are still going regional and our next stop this year is Ethiopia.
Would you remind us of the products that AIF is producing?
AIF produces relief products for WFP; it is a “super cereal” porridge which goes to the refugee camps in South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Somali. We also produce Shisha Kibondo under the Government of Rwanda’s feeding programme which goes to the most vulnerable population in Ubudehe Category One. It is given to pregnant, breastfeeding mothers and children aged between six months and two years. This is in line with the First 1000 Days Programme which is a critical period for fighting malnutrition.
We also make commercial products: Nootri Mama for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and Nootri Toto for children older than six months. Our products are intended to be used as complementary foods and not as breastfeeding substitutes. A brand new product, Nootri Family is finally on the market and is specifically for the whole family, not only the mothers and babies but also fathers and of course everyone in general.
There are always challenges alongside any success. What are the challenges faced by AIF so far and how are you coping with them?
Our biggest input is agricultural and as everywhere in the world, climate changes are creating uneasy cycles and we do not know what will be the next harvest season. It is the biggest challenge we cannot control. We also follow the highest standards and that takes time for the supporting industries to reach up to those standards. In 2017 we were working closely with the suppliers to make sure they deliver quality of products that meet our standards in food safety and with training and development, we have brought them closer to our standards and it will be easier in the years to come.
AIF is a joint venture between the Government of Rwanda and a consortium of Royal DSM, the Dutch development bank (FMO), DFID Impact Acceleration Facility managed by CDC Group plc and IFC, the investment arm of the World Bank.