General Mills (GIS 36.20, -0.35, -0.96%) announced the launch of Partners in Food Solutions as a hunger-fighting nonprofit bringing food production and food processing expertise to small and medium-sized food processors in African nations.
"The need for sustainable food production is central to combating hunger in Africa," said Ken Powell, chairman and CEO, General Mills. "General Mills has deep food processing expertise and the technical leadership skills necessary to transfer critical knowledge to food processors in Africa, who can then produce more food and feed more African people. Local food processors can then source more ingredients from local small-holder farmers, many of them women, creating an important and stable outlet for their crops.
"General Mills has been piloting this effort for more than two years, and we know we can help," said Powell. "Through Partners in Food Solutions, General Mills will be able to reach out to additional partners from across the food industry. The need is critical, and we know our industry can make a transformative difference."
General Mills developed Partners in Food Solutions as an employee volunteer initiative in 2009. Hundreds of General Mills employees volunteered to help African food processors and producers solve technical and quality challenges over the last two years, working on dozens of food technology initiatives in Africa.
Expanding rapidly with new African partners, increased volunteer support, funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and new corporate partners Cargill and DSM, Partners in Food Solutions continues to expand its reach by enlisting more partners with additional capabilities to help advance the effort. General Mills' move to create the new standalone nonprofit will grow the program by enabling new corporate partners to increase the scale of Partners in Food Solutions' efforts.
"Cargill is pleased to join General Mills and Partners in Food Solutions to help alleviate hunger in Africa. For Cargill employees, this is a unique opportunity to put our knowledge to work to improve the food supply chain, increase food security and in the process, change lives," said Greg Page, Cargill chairman and chief executive officer. "Partnerships to address food security can be a powerful force, and our participation in Partners in Food Solutions further demonstrates our commitment to ensuring all people have access to safe, nutritious and affordable food."
"We look forward to working closely with General Mills and Partners in Food Solutions to reach out to the people that need our help urgently," said Feike Sijbesma, CEO and chairman of the Managing Board of Royal DSM. "DSM has been playing an active role in the fight against micronutrient deficiencies for many years. DSM employees have been contributing their scientific know-how and technical expertise to help improve the nutritional status of people in need. Partners in Food Solutions give us the opportunity to accelerate progress in very tangible ways, working with an impressive line-up of partners to help improve the manufacturing of nutritious foods at the local level in key countries. Combining the skills and technologies of these partners allows us to combat hunger and malnutrition to create brighter lives."
Partners in Africa
A key component of the program is the grant from USAID to expand the scale of Partners in Food Solutions through an on-the-ground partnership with TechnoServe. This U.S.-based nonprofit helps entrepreneurial men and women in developing countries build businesses that create income, opportunity and economic growth for families and communities.
TechnoServe serves as the link between the African food processors and companies such as General Mills working to align the right expertise with the local challenge or opportunity. The expertise may be used to help improve food processor capacity, technology, product innovation, product safety, nutrition or marketing.
"Partners in Food Solutions is not about a relief effort for my home country," said Johnson Kiragu, a TechnoServe food technologist who manages the program in Kenya. "The corporate volunteers are using their expertise to strengthen the food supply chain—which has a huge ripple effect on local economies and the quality of life for all involved."
Helping those in Need
Partners in Food Solutions is already working with 15 food processors on about 40 projects in Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi, impacting 60,000 farmers. As a new nonprofit, it aims to broaden the program over the next five years to include as many as 10 corporate partners working with 200 food processors and 1 million farmers in 14 African nations. Partners in Food Solutions has also hired and trained four African food scientists who are helping to find companies in need of expertise.
The work ranges from new product development to packaging, from plant design to fortification. The food products are sold to consumers, but they also include food aid, reaching millions of those in need.
The effort is helping people like Agnes Paiva, who walked six miles to bring her 14-month-old son, Chisomo, to a clinic in Malawi, where hunger is prevalent and one out of six children die before age five. At the clinic, Chisomo received nourishment through a program called Project Peanut Butter, which is posting a 90 percent recovery rate for its Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food. Young Chisomo is now in that group, having gained enough weight to "graduate" from the program.
Partners in Food Solutions volunteers at General Mills are working to help Project Peanut Butter founder Mark Manary improve efficiency at his production facility, reducing costs, improving food safety and developing a formula to help treat HIV patients. General Mills also leveraged its own global network to find Project Peanut Butter a new milk powder provider, saving $200,000. About 40 General Mills employees are now working in various ways to help Project Peanut Butter solve other challenges.
Creating Sustainable Change in Africa
Strengthening the food supply chain is one of the most effective ways to raise the standard of living in many parts of the developing world. It can also create opportunity for great numbers of people. In African countries, for example, more than 80 percent of the work force is involved in agriculture. As Partners in Food Solutions continues to evolve and add new partners with additional resources, its mission will continue to focus on creating a virtuous circle of sustainability by improving food processing—thus improving the hundreds of thousands of lives tied to that success.
"After attending the 2007 World Economic Forum on world hunger, I was very inspired by what I felt General Mills could do to bring real and lasting change in these areas by simply engaging and activating the talents of our employees," said Powell. "Thanks to the more than 300 passionate and hard-working General Mills employees who helped create this program, we have now built a sustainable effort that can continue to bring real value to Africa."