On a rainy afternoon in Kabul, the air outside a building painted a cheerful shade of turquoise is fragrant with the scent of freshly-baked biscuits. The Itaffaq factory is the newest supplier for WFP’s High Energy Biscuits (HEB), a biscuit fortified with vitamins and minerals which WFP distributes to schoolchildren in Afghanistan. Most of the 15,000 metric tons of biscuits that WFP will give to just under one million kids in Afghanistan this year will be imported from India. But in an effort to build local capacity and stimulate the Afghan economy, WFP has shown several factories in the country how to make the biscuits and is buying them domestically, made with local ingredients wherever possible.
This is part of the country strategy of P4P in Afghanistan, which focuses on linking smallholder farmers to the expanding food processing industry. This offers the best opportunity to promote smallholder access to markets for high quality commodities and creates incentives for investments in agricultural production. Given WFP’s demand for processed foods and donor investments in food processing, the market for such commodities will be sustainable and offer incentives for smallholders and their organizations to increase their surpluses.
The Biscuit Doctor
On the factory floor, Henri Chouvel, WFP’s PhD-holding food technologist in charge of the production, is in his element. He flits between mixer, conveyor belt and oven like a more conventionally-dressed, francophone Willy Wonka. Of his 25 years of work experience in the private sector with big food international companies including Nabisco, Danone and the Sarah Lee group, 15 years were dedicated to biscuits. He scrutinizes every step of the production process attentively, a notebook and pencil in hand, scribbling furiously. “150 biscuits per turn of the rotary molder…. Onto the oven belt… 7 minutes 26 seconds in the oven… That means we can produce five kilos of biscuits per minute… 300 kilos per hour… A ten-hour day… We should be done with the first 50 metric tonnes in 16 working days,” he concludes triumphantly.
Henri has reason to be proud. This is the third factory the P4P team has primed to produce HEBs in Afghanistan – this one in Kabul, the other two in Herat. This ties in with P4P’s other activities in Afghanistan, where partnerships are being formed with NGOs such as NEI (Nutrition & Education International) to help local farmers’ organisations produce the ingredients for the biscuits. Henri works with the local companies to improve their operational efficiency and bring costs down. “With a bit more work and with an agreement with the government to claim taxes back, the Afghan biscuits could become competitive in price to biscuits produced in Indonesia and Turkey,” he explains. Later this year he is expecting the arrival of containerized production units in the country – self-contained mini-factories which will be used to produce HEBs and Ready-to-use supplementary food (RUSFs). “If everything goes to plan, we’ll have the capacity to produce 80% of the HEB needs for WFP Afghanistan locally by 2013.”
P4P in Afghanistan is entirely funded through contributions from the Government of Canada. The 500,000 packages of HEBs being produced by the Itaffaq factory in Kabul for WFP’s school feeding programme were paid for thanks to a donation from USAID.