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Why is it That Nobody Has Seen Bottling and Canning as a Development Tool in Africa and Particularly Ghana
- the short time that cheap excess is available meaning that either you are limited in what you can process or you need large equipment and can’t set it up as a sustainable business
- if its a business selling becomes the major constraint requiring REAL entrepreneurs
- if its a home operation things like caps, energy cost, sugar, vinegar which seem insignificant to us become constraining
- eventually bottles have to be bought and this is even worse in terms of afforability – in Ghana the standards authority previously stopped bottling in used general food bottles – imported bottles even when imported by an NGO were not affordable
- FitGhana – were involved is setting up women from households to make jams, but could not get it established because of the costs of bottles and other inputs
- ADRA – installed a large (maybe 1000 kg a day) community plant in Techiman to process excess tomatoes into bottles tomato paste which the idea was to sell to schools, restaurants and other institutions and hopefuly retail. The plant was funded by USAID, installed by NRI and costed and assisted by CSIR. The product was very good with a multiyear shelf life but I believe never got going because the product wasn’t sold – even so the farmers wanted a bigger plant.
- NRI – have done a lot of work in Ghana on both food safety and cassava/gari markets / processing and probably know as much as just about anyone about the possibility of what you want to do. NRI were also one of the drivers of Fruits of the Nile where households solar dry excess tropical fruit which FON quality control and export.
- USAID – have funded a lot of attempts
- CSIR Ghana – have developed technologies and believe they have many SME opportunities in the food area and have surely though on canning
- Gratis Foundation – design, develop and implement agri processing equipment
- Can & Kaa – Kofi Asiedu ran a small food processing business with hi-tech grant funded equipment in Accra
- Entrepreneurs, not organisations, are best situated to identify and serve opportunities
- Sun drying is a simple low capital cost process
- Niche markets are easier to penetrate that the commodity markets
- Focus is really important
- follow up on the experiences I’ve outlined above and others in a very frank way – not the “i do nice development story”
- if any can be used as a starting place for further development try and develop sustainable plans
- investigate the market potential for sun or if necessary solar drying taking ideas from the Fruit of the Nile experience
- teach people any missing skills in cottage processing – eg drying, bottling, pickling, fermentation, nutrition, safety . While these may not give nice quantifiable outputs for the funders it of value to the people.
- get a small scale canner, run it for a season and determine the real opportunities, “markets”, costs and especially safety issues. I by the way, even though I know its kind of development lore that small communities shouldn’t be shown dangerous things like meat canning, would not limit it to acidic products. After all fish drying is simply handled by many household although that is potentially dangerous!
- investigate the large industries you speak about as potential off take for processed or partially processed products from the farmers.
Some thoughts on establishing rural processing businesses in South Africa
- seasonality of the raw materials – eg marula’s are only harvested for four months of the year so one has to step up from simple processing that can be done on a small scale to processes like concentration and cold storage. This can again be installed and mananaged although the management skills are higher
- but the real problem is the selling of whatever product is made – this requires much deeper skills but especially commitment, which I personally believe can’t just be instilled in anyone who happens to be around. Selling to the retail system in South Africa is particularly hard and requires money as well as skill and persistence. Its my believe that some one from a government department or NGO is not even able to recognise and evaluate the difficulty of selling at the level necessary to ensure sustainability.
- get a retailer to give advantage / help / assistance / preference to the enterprise as part of their corporate responsibility. Quality, price and consistent supply have to be right the retailer is not going to plan to loose on any transaction. – Its my experience that it is easy for the retailer to commit to assist early in the process but much harder for the enterprise to supply. The retailer often commits without the information the enterprise needs to base his business on which is a firm quantity, a firm price and business conditions.
- become a supplier to a company already selling to retailers, thereby, not having to establish the skills, expertise and infrastructure required to sell. A good example of this is in Uganda where household dry mango, banana and pineapple which is bought by Fruit of the Nile (FON) who grade, clean, package and sell to UK super markets. The difficulty here is that FON add to the value chain cost, this is often looked on as being unacceptable as the enterprise would make more income if it sold directly. The real costs of such an operation are ignored and the shelf price found to be very attractive.
- supply local consumers with products they need which are not available through the retail system. This has seldom been achieved although the combination of local distribution and unique product seem very attractive.
- traditional products eg mopani worm and offal stews in convenience packs also seem attractive but haven’t been successful.
- there are finally the development kind of markets like FAIRTRADE, ethical trading, organic and low carbon where communities from developing countries are actually given an advantage in “developed countries”.
On the other hand simple technologies eg sun drying, solar drying, jam making, preserving, oil production, baking and milling can all offer households in a community ways to
- save money – which can be used for other purchases
- preserve grown or cheap bought produce for use when costs are high
- use the processes to improve nutrition