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Yaoundé - 25 April 2024 -
Agriculture

Olam Agri exploring further investments in Cameroon’s wheat flour and pasta production : Interview with Veeresh Mallikarjun Hiremath

Vereesh Mallikarjun Hiremath, Senior Vice President & Country Head for Olam Agri in Cameroon Vereesh Mallikarjun Hiremath, Senior Vice President & Country Head for Olam Agri in Cameroon
  • Comments   -   Wednesday, 06 September 2023 11:51

(OLAM AGRI) - The wheat milling sector industry in Cameroon has witnessed significant growth and transformation in recent years, reflecting the country's evolving food consumption patterns, economic development, and efforts to enhance food security. As a key player in West Africa, Cameroon holds a pivotal position where agriculture and modern food processing intersect. The production and distribution of flour products have become integral components of Cameroon's food supply chain, catering to the diverse culinary preferences of its population while contributing to its agricultural development goals.

Today, the investments of private businesses like Olam Agri in the wheat milling sector are playing a pivotal position where modern food processing intersects. In this interview, we had the rare opportunity to sit down with Mr. Veeresh Mallikarjun Hiremath, Olam Agri’s Senior Vice President & Country Head for Cameroon, to discuss Olam Agri’s operations, contributions, and significant investments made through its wheat milling business in Cameroon.Top of Form

Olam Agri is currently one of the market leaders in the flour category in Cameroon. Can you provide an overview of Olam Agri's wheat milling business and its presence in Cameroon?

Our wheat milling business is an integral part of Olam Agri's business portfolio, focusing on producing high-quality wheat-based products for local consumption. We produce a range of wheat flour through our state-of-the-art mill in Bekoko on the outskirts of Douala. The highly automated plant produces wheat flour products that cater to market requirements ranging from beignet, standard baguette, premium baguette, and toast bread under the brand name of Bijou which is a household name in the country. Our investment in Cameroon signifies our commitment to supporting food security, creating employment opportunities for the country’s dynamic young workforce, and contributing to the country's economic growth.

 

1 moulin   Olam Agri’s Wheat Mill in Bekoko – Outskirts of Douala in Cameroon

What motivated Olam Agri to invest in Cameroon's wheat milling industry?

Cameroon's strategic geographical location, growing population, and increasing demand for wheat products were key drivers for our investment decision. We saw an opportunity to leverage our expertise and resources to meet the rising consumer demand for quality wheat-based products in the region.

Could you elaborate on the specific factors that made Cameroon an attractive market for Olam Agri's wheat milling business?

Traditionally, Cameroon has been a consumer of staple crops like maize, cassava, and yams. However, the rising urbanisation and changing lifestyles have led to an increased demand for wheat-based products such as bread, pasta, pastries, and other baked goods. This shift in dietary habits has given rise to a burgeoning wheat milling sector, as local and international companies recognise the potential of supplying quality flour products to meet this growing demand.

The country’s continuous stability, favorable business environment, and strong agricultural potential made it an attractive destination for our investment. Additionally, the government has also played a pivotal role in supporting the growth of the wheat milling sector playing a significant role in our decision. Through policies that promote agricultural development, trade facilitation, and investment incentives, the government has encouraged both local and foreign players to participate in the industry. This has not only created opportunities for economic growth but has also contributed to job creation, rural development, and enhanced food security.

What key challenges did Olam Agri face when entering the Cameroonian market, and how were they addressed? Are there any unique market trends or consumer preferences that Olam Agri has observed in Cameroon's wheat products market?

As with any new market entry, challenges such as adapting to local regulations and establishing a robust supply chain are expected. Through collaborative efforts with local partners and leveraging our global experience, we navigated these challenges to establish a strong presence in Cameroon.

We are actively engaged in an ongoing conversation with the Government of Cameroon, closely assessing adjustments to protocol pricing and fiscal assistance for the wheat milling sector.

By leaning into these trends, Olam Agri has earned customer confidence by ensuring an uninterrupted focus on providing our customers with the best quality flour at a competitive price. Our ongoing emphasis is on strengthening our product category, prioritising the needs of our existing customer base. This strategy has fostered a strong connection and reliance of our customers on our products, resulting in increased loyalty and attachment.

What are some of your key flour brands and what nutritional components do they have?

Our goal as a responsible business has always been to provide highly fortified flour to all Cameroonians. Our brands have been meticulously adapted to cater to the market requirements of the country. Our range of brands includes; Bijou Mammy, Bijou Agege Best, and Bijou Standard. These flour brands meet the country's nutrition guidelines. Each batch undergoes stringent quality checks in our in-house laboratory before entering the market.

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   Our flagship brands – Bijou Mammy, Bijou Agege Best and Bijou Standard

Can you discuss the impact of Olam Agri's investment on the local economy, job creation, and community development in Cameroon?

Our investment has positively impacted the local economy by creating thousands of direct and indirect jobs for the country’s population, fostering skill development, and supporting local suppliers.

Being a conscientious corporate entity, Olam Agri has committed significant investments in the Bekoko Community, which is situated near our wheat mill. Our primary objective is to uplift the socio-economic conditions of the community. Our efforts have been concentrated on enhancing essential elements including water supply, electricity, healthcare facilities, and the establishment of avenues for income generation, especially aimed at empowering the local youth.

What would you say are the specific achievements of your organisation in Cameroon’s food security agenda?

Olam Agri has made noteworthy contributions to the Cameroonian food security agenda through a series of significant achievements. Firstly, our sustainable sourcing practices have played a pivotal role in stabilising the food supply chains. By establishing strong global sourcing relationships alongside local producers, we’ve implemented efficient distribution networks, ensuring a consistent flow of wheat flour, while reducing the vulnerability of the region to supply disruptions.

Furthermore, our commitment to community engagement and capacity-building initiatives among the baking communities has fostered knowledge transfer and skill development along the supply chain. Through training programs and workshops with bakers, we continue to empower them to enhance their techniques, resulting in increased self-sufficiency and improved access to nutritious food.

Our wheat milling facility in Bekoko embodies our unwavering commitment to crafting top-tier wheat flour that precisely aligns with market demands. Serving as the cornerstone of our operations, this facility empowers us to adeptly address the varied preferences of our customers, all the while upholding an unwavering commitment to impeccable quality and unwavering consistency.

Enhanced with cutting-edge technology and streamlined procedures, our milling facility serves as the driving force behind our ability to maximise production efficiency and retain a pioneering stance within the dynamic landscape of the wheat flour industry.

How does Olam Agri ensure sustainable and responsible practices in its wheat milling operations in Cameroon, particularly in terms of environmental and social considerations?

Sustainability is a core principle of our operations. We've implemented eco-friendly practices, such as optimising energy consumption and reducing water usage, to minimise our environmental footprint. Additionally, as a miller, we place significant emphasis on both decarbonisation and environmental preservation. To foster a greener and more sustainable environment, a tree-planting initiative has been established at the Bekoko grains factory. Furthermore, we have also initiated a similar tree-planting program within our wheat milling facility. This effort plays a crucial role in diminishing the effects of carbon emissions and reinstating the balance of natural ecosystems.

How does Olam Agri's wheat milling business in Cameroon contribute to the company's global commitment to food security and sustainability?

As a significant player in the agri-business and food sector in Cameroon, our business plays a vital role in championing the country’s food security agenda by providing a stable supply of essential wheat-based affordable and qualitative products to the Cameroonian population. Through our global reach and capabilities, alongside our operational footprint, uniquely position us to meet the needs of a growing global population.

The fiscal year 2022 posed challenges marked by an unprecedented surge in wheat prices, attributed to the Ukraine-Russia crisis. Nevertheless, through effective collaboration with our global trading team, we managed to avert any disruptions in the supply chain. Additionally, we strategically diversified our sourcing regions, thereby mitigating the impact of rising costs.

Is Olam Agri considering any further investments or expansion of its operations within the Cameroonian market?

While our primary focus is on consolidating our market-leading position in Cameroon, we remain open to identifying opportunities for growth within the market.  With the continuing rising demand for wheat-based products in the country, we are actively exploring potential opportunities to strengthen and increase our wheat milling capabilities, looking at doubling our milling capacity in the country as well as expanding into pasta production to cater to the demand for high-quality pasta products. We believe we are well positioned to extract significant operating leverage to further enhance our competitive strength in the country. As we continue to innovate and collaborate, we aim to further strengthen our position and create lasting value for all stakeholders.

Finally, what do you think is the future of the flour sector in Cameroon?

The future of the flour sector in Cameroon holds promising potential for growth and transformation. As the country focuses on enhancing its food security and self-sufficiency, the flour sector is expected to play a pivotal role. With advancements in agricultural technology, sustainable farming practices, and research-driven innovations, there is a strong possibility of revitalising local wheat production and reducing dependency on imports. Moreover, increasing consumer awareness about healthier dietary choices and the demand for diverse and value-added flour-based products can drive market expansion. Collaborative efforts between the government, private sector players, and agricultural institutions, like the involvement of Olam Agri, will likely lead to the development of a resilient and vibrant flour sector that contributes significantly to both economic growth and food security in Cameroon.

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