News and Events

Lance Staggenborg

Rwandan feed sector hungry for growth

Purina Mills plant manager shares his Farmer-to-Farmer experience

 

Volunteer: Lance Staggenborg

Date: March 2016

Implementer: Land O'Lakes International Development

Volunteer Interview: 

Lance, welcome back to the U.S. Before we get to your experience in Rwanda, please tell us about what you do for Land O'Lakes.

I have worked as a Plant Manager for Purina Mills for almost seven years in different plants in Texas, Louisiana, and now, Illinois. We run a facility that produces more than 50,000 annual tons–95 percent bulk and 5 percent packing.

So you traveled all the way from Illinois to Rwanda–what were your first impressions of the country?

It was my first time traveling to Africa. We hear things about third world countries that paint a picture in our minds–poverty, poor infrastructure and unsafe environments. Shortly after our plane touched down in the capital city of Kigali, I quickly realized my expectations were wrong. I felt safe the whole time and it was a beautiful, very clean country.

Sounds amazing! Tell us about what you were doing there.

Rwanda has only been in feed operations for about two years and their production capacity is small. To put this in perspective, one facility makes about six tons a month. At our Nashville, Illinois production facility, we can produce 4,000 tons a month. I visited six feed mills that produced dairy and poultry and some swine and even floating fish food. I provided recommendations on how they can improve operations. I went in thinking they needed help with increasing production due to being over capacity, but once again, my expectations were wrong. They had equipment, resources and logistics figured out. Their largest gap was lack of sales and marketing.

What may be holding them back from getting word out about their products?

They don't have a sales force and general marketing strategy. When I visit plants and ask who was on their sales team, they'd say either no one or one person, and that person was also working on production at the plant.

What recommendations did you give them?

  • Prioritize creating a sales team: This is a new concept for them so it takes education. I gave them ideas to put on branded t-shirts and talk to current and potential customers to understand their needs. Then, tell them how they can help improve their business by feeding their cows your product.
  • Find ways to lower prices: Instead of paying to import maize, I asked them to consider utilizing maize from local farms. In doing so, they can build the price of the maize into the feed and sell it back to the farmers at a lower price.
  • Seek other ways of distributing: Right now, they are distributing to large individual customers. I suggested they partner with vets in town centers to get their product in store fronts.
  • Managing the business: I offered some technical advice on how to manage operations. For example, they were not weighing raw materials when they arrived, so it was unclear if they were receiving what they were paying for. I suggested purchasing a scale to validate the weight of the inventory. I also suggested purchasing some relatively inexpensive equipment to mix, test and portion out their products more accurately.

What did you learn from the assignment that applies to your stateside job at Purina?

To not take things for granted. Our plants in the U.S. are incredibly efficient. Plants in Rwanda are using mostly manpower to unload and stack 15 tons of product a day. To complete a ten-ton batch, it takes them four hours. For us, it takes around 20 minutes. The amount of physical labor they do in their plants is probably 200 times higher than ours.

Did you do anything recreational while in Rwanda?

We went on a self-guided safari over the weekend to Akagera National Park where we saw elephants, water buffalo, giraffes and more. Rwanda is roughly the size of the Ireland, so I was able to see a lot of the country during our drives to the plant sites. The scenery, rolling green hills and mountains are gorgeous.

Any closing thoughts?

I had never heard of international development before this experience–I found out about Farmer-to-Farmer by reading about another employee's experience on The Source. It made me proud to work for a company that's doing good things in the world and not just solely focused on making money. We are helping people who aren't as fortunate–and as a result, we are moving the industry forward. If my support in Rwanda helps even one person in the end, I consider it a success.

The Farmer- to-Farmer Program is a USAID program which relies on the expertise of American volunteers to respond to the needs of farmers and agribusinesses in the developing world. Land O'Lakes International Development implements the program in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Most two to three week assignments are in Egypt or Lebanon, the two program core countries, but Lance's assignment was one of several "flexible" assignments outside of the programs core. If you or someone you know are interested in volunteering for the Farmer-to-Farmer Program and have agricultural, agribusiness, or production expertise email the Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer recruiter, Sadie Paschke for more information at SPaschke@landolakes.com.

Christopher Mallek

Overlooking Ajaltoun forest, Chris is pointing to the ideal location to build a fire break to two community members.


Name: Christopher Mallek

Current title/profession: Fire Ecologist with the U.S Forest Service

Current hometown: Sacramento, California

Areas of expertise: Fire Management Planning and Operations


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer in the Middle East and North Africa

Location of the project: Lebanon

Organization that sent the volunteer: Land O'Lakes International Development


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

In March of 2016 , the Farmer-to-Farmer Program in the Middle East and North Africa (F2F MENA) implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development and funded by the United States Agency for International Development, sent Chris Mallek, an expert in fire ecology, to Lebanon at the request of the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative (LRI). LRI, a partnership between USAID and the US Forest Service (USFS), provides technical assistance and institutional support on sustainable forestry practies and wildfire management in economically depressed and environmentally degraded regions within Lebanon. F2F Lebanon has been partnering with LRI to provide highly skilled technical experts on short-term assignments to build the technical know-how of the program and its beneficiaries, and has fielded three forest management and fire prevention experts to Lebanon since 2015.

LRI’s community-based model is meant to build strong ties within and between communities and create sustainable reforestation with both local knowledge and outside expertise. At the request of LRI, F2F MENA sent Mallek to Lebanon to help them implement FIREWISE in 5 communities and evaluate its implementation in 2 pilot small communities. FIREWISE is a community-based, participatory approach to fire prevention that strives to empower local communities to work together for the prevention and reduction of wildfire risks and fits very well within the community-based model of LRI. Furthermore, LRI has been ensuring that this approach is replicable by making sure that the recommendations for each location take the local context into consideration and adapt FIREWISE in their own way, at a low cost.

Mallek conducted field visits to most of the sites and met with represenattaives of the local community. He ended his visit participating in a workshop where he trained at least one individual from each location on the fire prevention plan concept which was later used to set a customized Firewise action plan.

Mallek submitted to LRI a list of recommnedtaions based on the assessment he conducted with the local community representatives. His suggested measures that can be taken on a local scale to help prevent fires, vary form fuel management to the fireshed approach He also stressed on the safety procedures and person to go in case of emergency. LRI has relied on Mallek’s recommendation and adopted the fireshed approach in the Firewise upscale plan they are currently working on. Mr. Mallek who is sought to come back for a new assignment to further his work is still remotely replying on technical questions that LRI team is raising.

Heidi Lammers, Jerry Heaps and Anthony Vojta

Quality managers on assignment for Farmer-to-Farmer

 


Assignment Overview

Date: August 2015

Volunteers: Heidi Lammers, Jerry Heaps and Anthony Vojta, all senior quality managers with the Land O'Lakes Quality team

Volunteers Interview:

Welcome back to the United States! What was the structure of your two-week Farmer-to-Farmer assignment?

  • Heidi: The first week we facilitated a Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) training for 20 students enrolled at the American University of Beirut. We had a mix of undergrad and grad students. HACCP, a management system to address food safety, is a third-party course with 11 modules, which lasted the entire week. Though slightly modified, the course is mostly the same training we give at Land O'Lakes twice a year.
  • Jerry: The second week, Anthony and I took a one-hour bus ride with the students to two food processing plants, about an hour outside of Beirut, Lebanon. These visits were a lot of fun, and a very useful learning experience for all of us, because we were able to see some of the HACCP course learnings in a practical setting.

The first processing plant you visited was for cheese. What was it like?

  • Anthony: I'm what some would call a "cheese-head", so this was my favorite stop. The cheese they make is called halloumi–it's soft, non-cultured, very fresh cheese, made of sheep and goat's milk. Almost like a very bland mozzarella. They coagulate the milk and strain off the whey, then end up boiling the cheese curd back into the whey–a very uncommon process in the United States. There are hundreds of types of cheese in the world, so to see something unique to their culture was very cool. Even though there was a language barrier with the plant owner, we could communicate with the "cheese-making language." It was a unique bonding experience.
  • Jerry: In terms of preparation, they typically roll the cheese up in Lebanese bread (similar to a pita) and put it on a griddle to make the cheese melty and stretchy. Then they dress it up with herbs to give it some flavor. The plant has been operating for many years, and they use grandma's unwritten cheese recipe.

Sounds like you met some interesting people!

  • Jerry: Yes, the people were very warm and hospitable everywhere we went. Actually, Anthony and I both had our birthdays during the trip–the group surprised us with cake and birthday songs. It was very nice of them to do that for us, and so unexpected.

What a memorable birthday! Let's talk a bit about the tahini paste plant. But first, what exactly is tahini paste?

  • Heidi: Tahini paste is made from sesame seeds. The paste is used on hors d'oeuvres and is a main ingredient in hummus.

And what were the highlights of this plant?

  • Jerry: In contrast to the cheese plant, the tahini paste plant had many of their procedures and recipes written down, including HACCP critical control points. This is not to say one way of doing things was better than the other; it was just interesting to note the operational contrast. We made some suggestions on how to improve their safety systems. The owner has been using the same processes for 25 years, so it is difficult to just flip a switch and change behavior. This isn't an exclusive challenge to this plant–it's common in the United States, as well.

What surprised you about this trip as it relates to food quality assurance?

  • Jerry: [What surprised me was] the wide spectrum of food safety laws worldwide. The U.S. has the FDA and USDA to establish and enforce these policies. It's easy to take these entities for granted. Not all countries have this regulatory infrastructure, so it is an uphill battle to standardize.
  • Anthony: To Jerry's point, Lebanon doesn't have a robust food quality regulation, but there appears to be some movement in the this direction. In talking with some of the students, they were hopeful that they will land jobs within the industry as it moves forward in recognizing the value of adopting better quality systems and establishing food safety regulations.

What did you bring back from the experience that will help you in your current job at Land O'Lakes?

  • Heidi: The students asked a lot of questions about how to approach getting increased input from management on quality assurance practices. Land O'Lakes is more mature in our commitment to quality, but we hear those same questions at home. It shows that management's commitment to food safety and quality is critical to success–no matter where you are.
  • Jerry: In the United States and around the world, people come to these HACCP trainings with various levels of food quality knowledge. I learned the importance of breaking down the lessons into basic terms to ensure people are digesting the information. Anthony is very good at doing this!
  • Anthony: Jerry, Heidi and I have diverse quality assurance backgrounds, so as a team we brought a variety of examples to the classroom to help paint the picture for the students. This is important to keep in mind as we facilitate other training programs.

What did you learn about collaborating with the Land O'Lakes International Development team?

  • Jerry: We work well with them. They are great at identifying the needs and being specific about our scope of work.
  • Heidi: Collaborative initiatives like these help me understand what's going on around the world with food, so it's a unique professional opportunity to collaborate with them. Getting a better worldwide perspective helps me understand how the United States and Land O'Lakes fit into the bigger picture. And I now have a better understanding of how diverse the Farmer-to-Farmer assignments are – I used to think they just focused on dairy and crops, but there is more to it than that. We were there for food safety, and when we were leaving, we met another volunteer coming in to provide financial support to a Lebanese agribusiness. The assignments cover every aspect of doing business in agriculture.
  • Anthony: I learned firsthand that as a commercial employee, I can share my expertise as a resource to our International Development projects and make an impact. Just one example, when we first arrived, we toured the plants before the HACCP training. During these tours, we'd made initial suggestions on how to improve some of their processes. Just one week later, the dairy processing plant had already implemented some things we'd talked about. It was rewarding to see that they were so receptive to our suggestions.

The Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program sends U.S.-based volunteers on short-term, international assignments to address the needs of agribusinesses and farmers. Land O'Lakes International Development is currently leading an $8 million F2F program in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, working to improve market access for producers, food processors and exporters, along with ensuring that safe foods reach markets. Since 1987, we've fielded more than 1,300 volunteers–including nearly 150 of our own staff and cooperative members–to 27 countries.

Dr. Renae Moran

Name: Dr. Renae Moran

Current title/profession: Associate Professor of Pomology at the University of Maine

Current hometown: Monmouth, Maine

Areas of expertise: Tree fruit production and physiology


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer in the Middle East and North Africa

Location of the project: Lebanon

Organization that sent the volunteer: Land O'Lakes International Development


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

The apple industry in Lebanon faces major challenges. Most apples were previously exported through Syria to the Gulf countries, but since the Syrian border has closed due to the on-going conflict, the local demand for apples cannot absorb the volume produced, and farmers cannot sell their orchards produce anymore.

Additionally, apples are still being imported into the country through other channels, which domestic apple producers have to compete with. On another level, lack of knowledge about new pruning practices and the best varieties suitable for the climate have been negatively affecting quality and thus reducing demand of the local fruit.

As a result of these factors, and the subsequent reduction in profit, several orchard owners of Mount Lebanon reported to the Agriculture committee of Ehmej municipality that they were considering removing their orchards and selling their land. The committee requested the assistance of an expert in pome fruit from the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Program to work with these fruit tree farmers on improved agricultural practices.

Dr. Renae Moran, an Associate Professor at the University of Maine,  School of Food and Agriculture, visited Lebanon twice. During her two week assignment in October 2015 and her follow-up assignment in January 2016, she taught farmers better pruning techniques that improve both quantity and quality of the fruit and reduce the labor it takes to harvest. While not all the farmers in Ehmej adopted the practices she recommended, those who did have reported a 30 percent increase in quantity.

What’s even more important is that the quality of the apples produced has significantly improved, making them more appealing on the domestic market. The head of the Agriculture committee believes that it is only a matter of time before farmers who had decided to continue with their traditional pruning practices will be convinced by the results and begin using the new techniques.

While the results of Dr. Moran’s pruning techniques have not materialized yet into increased profits, the improvement in quality and quantity and decrease in labor costs for orchard owners has allowed the level of profit to remain steady and convinced several owners (5-10 percent)  who had been planning to sell their orchards to re-consider their decision and keep them in production.

Farmer-to-Farmer Middle East North Africa is implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development and funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

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