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Record Turnout In Dubai

More than 800 millers and exhibitors attend the annual IAOM Mideast & Africa Conference.

The IAOM Mideast and Africa annual conference and exposition, held Oct. 31-Nov. 3, returned to Dubai to begin its second quarter century as the region’s major platform for technical and business exchange in the milling industry. The commercially pulsating crossroads attracted a record number of over 800 registered millers and exhibitors from 60 countries for the three days of professional camaraderie and grain market and processing insights.

Organizers said 250 employees representing 130 milling companies were registered this year, marking notable progress in a key goal for the event and the 93 firms that occupied the sold out exposition space.

The forum’s content continued to reflect the rapid development of many countries into increasingly sophisticated consumer markets where there is growing demand for a greater range of packaged cereals-based foods as well as animal protein products.

Branding strategies, both personal and product oriented, were the topic of two of the management keynote speakers. They sought to provide answers to the question of how to differentiate and add value to wheat-flour based products that in much of the region are still perceived purely as a commodity.

Roy Loepp, IAOM president and Ali Habaj, regional director IAOM MEA, present an award of appreciation to Essa Al Ghurair for his quarter century of contribution to IAOM region. Emcee Rania Ali, a well-known Dubai television presenter, is seated.

Roy Loepp, IAOM president and Ali Habaj, regional director IAOM MEA, present an award of appreciation to Essa Al Ghurair for his quarter century of contribution to IAOM region. Emcee Rania Ali, a well-known Dubai television presenter, is seated.

Many Middle East and Africa wheat millers have been diversifying into animal feed production as growth in demand for eggs, broiler meat and other animal products accompanies dietary diversification resulting from increased incomes. After a successful side program on feed milling at the previous IAOM MEA in Cape Town, speakers addressing such questions as the most desirable particle sizes for maize in broiler feed were included in the main program.

Essa Al Ghurair, chairman of Al Ghurair Resources, the host of the event, opened the conference with a welcoming speech that laid out the program and innovations in the “mind sharing” and reminded the audience, “This industry touches rich and poor, young and old.” He suggested that millers continually ask themselves, “How can we be honest in what we do?” as suppliers of a key staple food.

MARKET OUTLOOKS

The highly anticipated presentations of crop and market conditions for the major wheat exporting regions were spread over two days. They painted a rosy picture of abundant wheat supply and low transportation costs for the short, medium and long term.

The results and projections for the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea were particularly significant for the grain-hungry countries of the Middle East. Hans Stoldt of Ameropa, a grain trader, boldly predicted wheat production and exports 10 years ahead to 2025-26 for the Black Sea region.

Based on a continuation of the steady yield and planting increases of recent years, he forecast that just five countries will ship 74.6 million tonnes of wheat primarily through the Bosphorus a decade from now, with Russia and Ukraine accounting for over 80%. That is a 65% increase over his estimate of 45.1 million tonnes in the 2015-16 marketing year. Since total exports of these countries, which also include Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia, have shot up from 1.4 million tonnes in 2000-01 to 39 million tonnes in 2014-15, this actually constitutes a significant slowing in the pace of growth.

The Baltic Sea region is also continuing its ascent as a major grain supply source, according to Indrek Aigro of Copenhagen Merchants, another grain trader.

Total wheat production in the eight countries has increased by over 60% since 1995 from 34 million tonnes to a repeat record of 55 million tonnes in 2015. Nearly all of this increase has become surplus available for export, given the slow rates of population growth in Germany, Poland, the three Scandinavian countries, and the three former Soviet Baltic states.

The latter will consume only 1.8 million tonnes of a record 6.8-milliontonne wheat harvest this year. The main challenge faced by shippers in the region is finding additional markets to absorb the 20 million tonnes on offer. Middle East and African countries, with annual wheat imports of nearly 70 million tonnes, are the main targets.

At the same time, as the former Soviet Bloc countries have developed into a major global supply source, a large part of U.S. wheat exports have shifted from the Middle East to other regions, according to Vincent Peterson, vice-president of overseas operations, U.S. Wheat Associates. From 1985-1990, the Middle East and North Africa took, on average, 30% of American wheat exports. Now the region accounts for just 3%. Latin America’s share has shot up from 10% to 40% of the average 25 million tonnes per year of U.S. export sales. This figure has changed little in the last 30 to 40 years.

Iranian millers, whose grinding capacity greatly exceeds domestic demand, are starting to target neighboring countries for flour exports. The chairman of GTC, Iran’s government wheat supply monopoly, stated in his presentation that exports of flour by Iranian millers to Afghanistan and Iraq could reach 1 million tonnes in the coming years, taking market share from millers in Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Turkey.

Iran’s strong contingent of milling companies is traditionally a bulwark of the IAOM MEA Conference. This year was no exception as over 30 mills were included in the 38 organizations providing 54 attendees from the country. The gradual lifting of economic sanctions means the millers have greater flexibility in equipment purchasing.

POSITIVE FEEDBACK

Exhibitors and attendees, both old and new, gave uniformly positive feedback on the conference. Copenhagen Grain Merchants’ Torben Christensen stated, “IAOM is a great conference and event where you meet existing as well as potential customers for the future.”

George Lasu, managing director of South Sudan’s only wheat mill, a 200-tonne-per-day plant being built in Juba by the Ramciel Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, expressed his satisfaction, saying: “It was the first time for us to participate in the conference. It was very fruitful because we acquired a lot of knowledge and interacted with a lot of very experienced people in every field of milling. So we are very happy to be part of this association.”

Amer Ziyada, managing director of Millrite, Dubai, who has attended every year but one since the beginning, noted that the number of exhibitors this year was the largest he had seen.

But he added, “There should be more steps taken to increase the number of millers versus suppliers.” He suggested reducing the cost of the day pass to make the exhibition more accessible to mill staff. “When we started there were just 40 of us: 30 millers and 10 suppliers,” he said.

Another longtime participant, Nicolas Tsikhlakis, managing director of The Modern Flour Mills and Macaroni Co., Jordan, and member of the IAOM MEA Region Leadership Council, pointed out, “We had good representation of millers this year. It was a pretty balanced show with traders as well. Networking was very good.”

Seaboard Corporation senior trader Evert Ackorn called the IAOM conference “a fantastic forum for the industry to meet to discuss synergies, opportunities, and the challenges we face in an ever-changing operating environment.” He noted that his company “remains a strong advocate of these associations that provide a positive influence to millers.”

Anna Zenchuk, technical marketing manager of BioAnalyt, Germany, observed: “As a small, new company with an innovative product that simplifies measurement of Vitamin A and iron in flour, we valued the chance to speak for the first time at such a major gathering of millers.”

Another first-time participant, Steven Braco of RJ O’Brien, an independent Chicago, Illinois, U.S.-based futures commission merchant, said: “This event allowed me to interact informally with long-time clients and to better understand the risk management needs of major millers and the traders supplying them.”

REGIONAL FORUMS

To better meet the technical needs of milling professionals across the vast, culturally and economically diverse region, the IAOM MEA district this year began a series of regional milling forums. The first was staged in Nairobi in August, where 75 millers from 43 companies, including a large contingent from Ethiopia, were present for a workshop focused in part on aflatoxins in maize milling.

Ali Habaj, Oman Flour Mills CEO and IAOM MEA regional director, announced that, based on Nairobi’s resounding success, a second regional forum is planned for Algeria in 2016 where a few hundred small and medium millers comprise the bulk of the sector. It is to be IAOM’s first activity in the major wheat importing country.

IAOM MEA 2016 TO BE IN ETHIOPIA

The Dubai event concluded with the announcement of the selection for the first time of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s de-facto political capital, as the site of the IAOM MEA Conference scheduled for October 2016. Ali Habaj observed that in a recent visit he was, “very impressed by the infrastructure and it is a fantastic market.”

Madame Abeba Tesfaye, vice-president of the Ethiopia Millers’ Association, accepted the nomination. Ethiopia’s population of 90 million is second in size after Nigeria in Africa. The country grows and consumes more cereals than all others below the Sahara. It ranks first in wheat production among them with around 3 million tonnes annually in addition to close to another million tonnes of yearly imports. There are between 200 and 300 milling companies in Ethiopia.

Many of the larger millers have been diversifying into pasta production. The annual crop of over 20 million tonnes of cereals, legumes and oilseeds still requires much in the way of improved storage and processing. Agricultural exports have boomed in recent years, underlying a high rate of annual GDP growth.

Original PDF article as appeared in the World Grain magazine.

Strategic grain reserves

The world economic crisis at the end of 2008 led to a profound distrust of financial markets, particularly among the developed countries that were impacted the most. Similarly, the twin price spikes that like bookends preceded the collapse and now accompany the global recovery, have caused political leaders in many developing countries to lose faith in grain and other commodity markets.

Many developing countries choosing to increase the size of their grain holdings during recent period of price volatility.

In December of 2010, Chief Industries UK of Essex, England, finished installing six steel silos with total storage capacity of 73,800 tonnes (12,300 tonnes each) that are 28.3 meters in diameter with an overall height of 29.4 meters at a facility in the Port of Qasim. Photo courtesy of Chief Industries.

After at least two decades of gradual withdrawal as part of an overall move toward free markets and economic liberalization, food price riots in 2008 and the recent unrest in many countries — sparked in part by renewed inflation — have prompted many governments to vigorously intervene in grain markets.

Outright bans, quotas or other restrictions on exports by Russia, Ukraine, Argentina, India, China and others are just one aspect of this trend.

Another is the policy decisions of many countries to increase the size of their strategic grain reserves whether composed of domestic or imported origin. The effects on world markets of these larger reserves have yet to be seen, but could make volatile markets even thinner as governments seek to hold, or as critics would say, hoard more grain. There are numerous examples from many parts of the world.

Middle East

In the Middle East, a region heavily dependent on grain imports, wealthy governments have decided to invest some of their immense cash surpluses in strategic grain holdings. Industry sources report that Saudi Arabia intends to increase its stock on hand of imported wheat to 1.5 million tonnes, which represents a six-month supply based on an annual milling wheat requirement of 3 million tonnes. A number of large grain storage facilities are expected to be built, particularly at Red Sea ports, as the country has rapidly phased out domestic wheat production due to aquifer depletion after nearly 30 years of costly self-sufficiency.

The effects on world markets of these larger reserves have yet to be seen, but could make volatile markets even thinner as governments seek to hold, or as critics would say, hoard more grain.

On April 18, the head of the Iraqi Grain Trading Company stated that his agency would up its wheat purchases from abroad this year to 3.25 million tonnes, equivalent to one year’s import supply plus a 1-million-tonne strategic reserve. Last year the country imported 1.9 million tonnes. Iraq will also increase rice imports to 1.5 million tonnes in part for reserve purposes.

Oman recently announced plans to construct a total of 300,000 tonnes of steel silo storage for government wheat reserves at two ports. The country’s two domestic milling companies will draw from the reserve in order to rotate the wheat in storage.

In the UAE, there have been recent press reports of a plan to build a very large grain storage complex at the port of Fujairah on the Indian Ocean with financing from Abu Dhabi, the richest of the seven emirates. The location, which already houses a strategic petroleum reserve, would ensure access to imported grain in case the Strait of Hormuz was ever blocked. Saudi Arabia’s emphasis on Red Sea storage facilities may reflect the same geopolitical worries.

In line with this theme, industry sources report that Qatar’s government is considering building a huge underground grain storage bunker that would protect a wheat reserve from radioactive fallout in case of a nuclear catastrophe in nearby Iran.

In Jordan, where the state is the monopoly importer, the wheat reserve will rise by one third thanks to the addition of a 100,000-tonne-capacity concrete grain elevator at the Red Sea port of Aqaba. However, it could be argued that this increase merely keeps up with population growth.

In Egypt, with the government accounting for 5 out of 7 million tonnes of total wheat imports along with 2.5 million tonnes of domestic purchasing, there is little room to increase its activity except to push holdings up to six months stock, the upper end of the reported target level.

Iran, which has achieved near self-sufficiency in wheat production in the last decade, has gone against the regional tide of greater state involvement in the last couple of years by deregulating most of its wheat sector and allowing private milling companies to buy directly most of the over 15 million tonnes per annum of wheat produced in the country.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Despite its status as the earth’s least food secure region, governments in sub-Saharan Africa in recent decades have held only modest grain reserves, if at all. Above all, this has to do with financial constraints, since buying up domestic grain and rotating stocks can be a huge burden on national budgets, not to mention the cost of building proper storage facilities, the market risks of intervention, and problems of transparency and governance associated with such activity. Just as important, all but a few African governments have abandoned the socialist policies of the past, which often included state ownership of grain processing and storage facilities.

However, recently some countries, particularly cash-rich oil exporters, have begun laying the basis for greater intervention in grain markets. Nigeria has adopted a policy that 15% of the total annual grain harvest should be held in reserve. The National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) will hold 5% as a core strategic grain reserve, and individual states are to hold another 10% as so-called “state buffer stocks.”

This policy initiative has already been backed by significant investment. In 2011, NFRA will complete the construction of steel silo storage capacity for over 1 million tonnes of grain, primarily maize, sorghum and millet, at 10 sites in key production areas. Existing NFRA storage capacity was 325,000 tonnes.

In Angola, the state also may divert some of its oil and gas export revenues to create a national grain reserve. The plan is for several hundred thousand tonnes of grain to be held in new government storage facilities under the Ministry of Agriculture. To date, just 45,000 tonnes capacity of steel silo storage has been built in five locations, thanks to development aid from the Spanish government. Despite 30 million hectares of unused arable land, Angola still imports much of its food. Guaranteed government purchases in order to build up a grain reserve could serve as an incentive to more investment in agriculture.

Kenya’s National Cereal and Produce Board has decided to double the reserves it stores from 4 million to 8 million sacks of 90 kg. The total of 720,000 tonnes will be almost entirely domestically purchased maize.

Zambia’s Food Reserve Agency, since about 2005, has become an active player in buying the maize surplus in the country, holding over 350,000 tonnes of maize, but in the process was subject to criticism for squeezing out private sector trade and contributing to overproduction and a 1-million-tonne surplus that could be neither adequately stored nor exported, resulting in a price collapse in 2010.

Sudan’s government, which operates a small reserve for domestic intervention in sorghum and millet, has largely stayed out of the wheat market since total deregulation of the sector in the late 1990s. However, recently it put out feelers for a tender purchase of 300,000 tonnes of wheat.

Ethiopia has operated an emergency grain reserve targeting a level of 400,000 tonnes for about 15 years. Thanks to economic reforms and outside investment, the country has experienced five years of GDP growth averaging 11%. Greater budget revenues should help the country realize a plan to increase the amount of grains held in reserve for both emergency relief and market stabilization.

South Asia

Bangladesh’s Food Department is increasing its public stocks of wheat and rice to 1.5 million tonnes from a previous target level of 700,000 tonnes. Up until the early 1990s, the country held 2.2 million tonnes and was praised by international economists for reducing this by two-thirds.

Pakistan and India could be viewed as going counter to the trend of increased food reserves. Thanks to bountiful harvests in recent years, Pakistan is in the process of exporting hundreds of thousands of tonnes of wheat from government stores in order to make room for the current harvest with planned government purchases of 4 million tonnes just in Punjab state.

India’s harvest of grain and pulses at 235 million tonnes is at record levels for the second year running. Despite this, the country has banned wheat and rice exports since international prices started rising in 2007. Now many high-placed people are calling for the country to export some of its surplus wheat from a carryover stock that exceeds 17 million tonnes held by the Food Corporation of India, plus another 7 million tonnes in private hands. FCI needs to make room for targeted procurement of 26 million tonnes from the new harvest. There are fears of poorly stored grain rotting. One paradox of large government grain holdings is that due to lack of investment in modern storage facilities, the goal of food security is subverted by storage losses that can exceed 20% in many cases, though this is rarely officially recognized. Most government grain reserve record-keeping shows one bag going out for every bag coming in.

Up to 75% of India’s food reserve wheat is still stored outdoors in jute bags piled on raised earthen platforms called plinths and covered with tarpaulins. Most of the rest is stored bagged in go-downs. Only about 650,000 tonnes of government wheat is stored in modern steel silo facilities built by private operator Adani Grain in the last decade. In Pakistan’s neighboring Punjab region, the storage practices are the same though a higher share of wheat purchased by the Punjab state government annually may be in go-downs.

Bangladesh is launching an ambitious project to build terminals for imported wheat and rice at a number of ports excluding Chittagong where grain terminals already exist. In other ports for lack of berths and ship unloaders, a couple of hundred laborers with shovels fill sacks in holds of vessels at anchor in the harbor for loading onto 1,500-tonne lighters and transport to mills up river. Handling and transport losses are thought to be significant.

East Asia and Southeast Asia

Though the total is a state secret, China’s government wheat holdings are estimated to reach 55 to 60 million tonnes following the harvest with an annual carryover of at least 20 million tonnes. Grain production and consumption represent 20% of the world total, but the impact on international markets is relatively benign due to a sacred policy of 95% self-sufficiency in grain, excepting about 57 million tonnes per year of soybean imports. Most other governments in the region hold large rice reserves. South Korea’s hit a record level of 1.5 million tonnes in the last year. In Indonesia, the food reserve agency Bulog has a monopoly on rice imports as does its counterpart in the Philippines.

Conclusion

In countries like Nigeria, increased grain reserves are mostly a domestic market phenomenon. But in the case of wheat, with some traditional exporters — particularly Russia and Ukraine — seeking to protect national stocks on the one hand while on the other hand governments in a number of importing
countries build infrastructure to increase their holdings, the implication could easily be less stable and less liquid markets over the medium term.

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Sudan – Booming market for wheat

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for just 14% of the world wheat trade and a small fraction of all consumption. But in coming decades, demand from the region will result in the lion’s share of increases in global wheat production and trade.

sudan-wheat-silos

Sudan wheat silos.

This is because nearly all net global population growth up to 2050 will be in the 45-plus countries of the region. Rapid urbanization will mean greater per capita consumption of bread and other wheat-based foods at the same time as average consumption goes down or remains stable in developed countries as well as in the Middle East, China and India.

Sudan is one country that has been leading the regional trend. Sorghum and millet are the traditional cereals grown and consumed throughout the country, but in recent years imports of wheat have totaled 1.7 million tonnes per year. In the sub-Saharan region, only Nigeria at 3.5 million tonnes imports more.

As late as the 1980s, bread for most people in Khartoum (the nation’s capital) was a luxury purchased only when guests came. Annually only 100,000 tonnes of wheat was ground in modern mills. Today, three powerful milling companies are producing 1.5 to 2 million tonnes of wheat flour per year. In Khartoum, where the population has burgeoned to 10 million, the average person now consumes over 200 grams of wheat flour daily, equivalent to four or five typical loaves.

More than 20 years of civil wars in the west, south and east of the country have caused millions of displaced people to relocate to the capital. Millers report that 90% of these migrants within a few years have switched from sorghum to bread as their main food. The traditional flat bread from sorghum flour, kisra, is now baked in urban households just one day per week or only on holidays. Many women in cities have never learned to bake kisra.

About half of the country’s production of 70,000 to 80,000 50-kg bags per day is consumed in Khartoum, which represents about one-third of the 30 million population of the northern part of the country.

Similar changes in eating habits are occurring in most of the country’s urban areas thanks to an efficient network for distribution of wheat flour, which often costs less than local grain.

Few villages these days are without a bread baker. Many farm families now sell part of their sorghum harvest for animal feed use in order to have money to buy bread. Even in Darfur, internally displaced people living in the huge refugee camps frequently sell a portion of their sorghum ration in order to buy bread.

The big Three

One of Africa’s most modern wheat milling industries has developed as both a contributor to and beneficiary of the trend toward greater bread consumption. The three mill operators in Sudan are the basis for the major food groups and indeed some of the largest private business groups in the country.

Sayga Flour Mills, which is part of Dal Group, is the biggest miller in terms of installed capacity mill. Today it has nearly 4,000 tonnes of milling capacity at three sites: four production lines with 2,250 tonnes of capacity in Khartoum, 1,200 tonnes at a leased mill in Port Sudan, and 500 tonnes at Atbara, located between Khartoum and Port Sudan.

Sayga has built a pasta plant next to one of its mills in Khartoum, where capacity was expanded in the last twoyears to 300 tonnes per day. Vermicelli, suitable for making a traditional Sudanese sugary desert, accounts for 80% of the plant’s output.

Sayga’s parent company, Dal Group, is in the process of investing $60 million in a major dairy operation that will have 10,000 cows fed by Sayga’s bran production.

Wheata Flour Mills, which started up in 2001, was the second company to become a major wheat flour producer in Sudan. Currently,  it has three production lines with 1,750 tonnes of daily capacity at its single milling plant in Khartoum. Wheata is part of Araak Group whose other food interests include fruit juices.

The most aggressive player in the sector in recent years has been Seen Flour Mills, which took over the former government mill in Khartoum, the original wheat mill in the country, and then acquired a couple of failed mills in Khartoum as well.

Relying on special access to the domestic wheat crop of 300,000 to 400,000 tonnes combined with Black Sea wheat, the company has used a low-price strategy to rapidly win market share, particularly in the low-income districts of greater Khartoum. Seen Flour Mills is planning the construction of a new 1,000-tonne-per-day mill in north Khartoum near its main mill, as well as an industrial bakery with five tunnel ovens.

Impact of deregulation

Deregulation of the industry in 1998 has been an important factor in its dynamic growth since then. Formerly the government held a monopoly on wheat imports, which were supplied to about 20 small millers on a quota system at subsidized prices in order to keep bread prices down. Once the government gave up its control due to chronic supply shortages, most of the smaller millers, lacking the financial strength to buy boatloads of wheat, were forced to close or operate only intermittently.

Sayga developed a strong supply relationship with the Australian Wheat Board and Wheata with the Canadian Wheat Board. Thus the two companies were able to dominate a market that could not be satisfied by local wheat production.

It could be argued that investment by the three largest milling groups - not just in milling, but also in storage and transport - has done a lot to improve food security in Sudan. There is now 240,000 tonnes of steel silo storage capacity for wheat at Port Sudan. Pending projects could add another 100,000 tonnes. The eight milling sites have another 140,000 tonnes of storage. In total, this is nearly 400,000 tonnes of wheat storage that has been built in the past 15 years.

By comparison, the government strategic grain reserve, which is mainly sorghum and millet, operates two concrete  grain elevators built in the 1960s by the Soviet Union: one 50,000-tonne port facility at Port Sudan and a 100,000-tonne elevator in the main sorghum producing area around Gadarif, where there is also a new 100,000-tonne concrete silo built by a Chinese contractor.

The importance of food security in Sudan should not be understated. From 1995 to 2010, Sudan’s population doubled from 20 million to 40 million. Add to this civil wars and periodic droughts that reduced the sorghum and millet harvest, and it is not surprising that the country has hosted one of the largest food aid distribution operations of the World Food Program. The United Nations agency as recently as a few years ago imported and distributed up to 800,000 tonnes of food commodities to distribute to 6 million beneficiaries, the great majority being people in Darfur displaced to camps that have now become permanent settlements.

Red sorghum donated from the United States has traditionally amounted to about two-thirds of the WFP food basket. Now with more political stability and the scaling down of food distribution, some of this donated sorghum will inevitably be replaced by wheat imported commercially.

Recent improvements in grain transport infrastructure have also served to keep wheat prices down and improve food security. This has resulted from a combination of public and private investment. Port Sudan’s harbor has beendredged to accommodate vessels with 40,000 tonnes of grain versus only 25,000 tonnes five years ago. A new highway has shortened the road distance from Port Sudan to Khartoum from 1,200 to 800 kilometers and truck transit time from over 20 hours to less than 12. At least 5,000 tonnes of wheat must be transported daily over this distance to satisfy the capital’s milling demand.

Sub-Saharan Africa wheat imports (in million tonnes) 2010. Includes wheat flour in wheat equivalent. Source: International Grains Council and author’s estimates for 2009-10

Sayga has invested in a fleet of Australian-designed grain hopper cars as well as locomotives made in China in order to operate its own grain trains on the government tracks. Wheat a operates a fleet of 220 trucks with cylinder tanks for bulk transport of its wheat.

hopper-wagons

Sayga Flour Mills has its own fleet of Australian designed grain hopper wagons and locomotives to transport wheat on 1,200 km of government tracks from Port Sudan to Khartoum.

Sudan has a long history of wheat production. But in the deregulated environment since 1998, local wheat has not always been competitive with imports. Varying quality of small lots from numerous individual farmers makes local wheat less desirable to the big milling companies.

However new investment is taking place, much of it from Saudi Arabia, where large agricultural companies have stopped production due to reversal of the 30-year policy of self-sufficiency in wheat. One major Saudi investor has transferred from Saudi Arabia center pivot irrigation equipment, combines, tractors and even technicians to establish over 32,000 hectares of wheat farms between Port Sudan and Khartoum. With yields of five tonnes per hectare, an extra 160,000 tonnes of local wheat is anticipated.

Two of the millers have also turned their focus to sorghum flour in 1-kg retail packaging. Sayga was the first to launch such a product, but Seen Flour Mills has announced its purchase of two 100-tonneper-day sorghum mills. Nevertheless sorghum remains the domain of chakki-style stone mills found in villages as well as urban markets.

Corporate social responsibility programs are important to all three milling companies. Since 2005, Wheata has fortified all of its production with iron and folic acid. In the last year it became the first company in Sudan to gain ISO 9000 food safety management certification. Sayga has financed the conversion of many bakers from wood- and charcoal-fired ovens to gas and electric. The company has even trained female prison inmates to become bakers. Seen Flour Mills is best known for its commitment to purchase local wheat from small holder farmers.

Can a handful of private wheat millers help solve the food security, public health, environmental, economic and social problems of an African country? In Sudan, they are certainly doing their part.

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